S. LUKE xvi.19, 20.
"There was a certain rich man, . . . and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus."
What was the rich man's sin? We are not told that he had committed any crime. He is not described as an extortioner or unjust. There is no word about his having been an adulterer, or a thief, or an unbeliever, or a Sabbath breaker. Surely there was no sin in his being rich, or wearing costly clothes if he could afford it. Certainly not: it is not money, but the love of money, which is the root of all evil. The sin of Dives is the sin of hundreds to-day. He lived for himself alone, and he lived only for this world. He had sunk all his capital in his gold and silver, and purple and fine linen. He had no treasure laid up in Heaven. So when the moth and rust had done their work, and death had broken through like a thief and stolen all his earthly goods, he had nothing left. This parable is full of sharp contrasts. First, there is the contrast in the life of these two men. The one rich, the other a beggar. The one clothed in purple and fine linen, the other almost naked, and covered with sores. The one fared sumptuously every day, the other lay at the gate starving, and longing for the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. The one had friends and acquaintances who ate of his meat and drank of his cup, the other was "a pauper whom nobody owns," and the dogs were his only earthly comforters. The rich man had great possessions, yet one thing he lacked, and that was the one thing needful. He had the good things of this life, yet he had not chosen the good part which could not be taken away from him. He had gold and silver, purple and fine linen, but he was without God in the world. Lazarus, the beggar, was after all the truly rich man, "as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Next, there is a contrast in the death of these two men. One expired in a luxurious bed. No doubt there were learned physicians beside him, and perhaps friends and relatives, though, as a rule, selfish people have few true friends. The other died we know not where, perhaps in the hot dusty road at the rich man's gate. There were no doctors to minister to his wants, no kindly hands to sooth his burning brow, to moisten his parched lips, to close his glazing eyes. But the angels of God were about his bed, and about his path, and in their hands they bore him up, whom no man on earth had loved or cared for. And there is a contrast in the after time for these two men. The rich man was buried, doubtless, with great pomp. Some of us have seen such funerals. What extravagance and display take the place of reverent resignation and quiet grief! Of the beggar's burial place we know nothing. But the sharpest contrast of all is in the world beyond, from which for a moment Jesus draws back the veil. He who had pampered his body and neglected his soul is now in torment; he who never listened to the whisper of his conscience, is forced to hearken to its reproaches now; he who had great possessions is worse off than a beggar -- he had gained the whole world and lost his own soul. And worst of all, he sees Paradise afar off, and Lazarus resting there, where he may never come. That beggar whom he had despised and neglected, to whose wants he had never ministered, is comforted now, and the rich man is tormented.
Oh! awful contrast! Dives in his misery of despair looks up, and for a moment sees --
"The Heavenly City,
There he saw the meadows dewy
There were forests ever blooming,
Saddest of all fates indeed must it be to gaze on Heaven and to live in Hell. Then Dives remembers his brethren in the world, who are living the old life which he lived in the flesh, spending his money perhaps; and, still selfish after death as before, he asks that the beggar may be sent from his rest and peace to warn them. The answer comes that they, like Dives himself, have Moses and the Prophets to teach them, if they neglect them nothing can avail them. And so the curtain drops over this dreadful scene. Let us, brethren, hearken to some of the lessons which come to us with a solemn sound from the world beyond the grave. In the first place, let us learn that being respectable is not a passport to Heaven. No doubt the rich man of the parable was very respectable. If he had lived in these days, and there are many of his family with us now, he would have worn glossy broadcloth instead of purple, and have held a responsible position in his town and parish. He would have gone to church sometimes, and have been very severe with the outcasts of the gutter and the back slums. And yet we find that all this outward respectability, these salutations in the market place, were no passport to Heaven. The man lived for himself -- he was a lover of himself. He had no love for his brother whom he had seen, ay, every day, lying at his gate; and so he could have no love for God whom he had not seen. The sin of Dives, remember, was not that he was rich, it was that he was utterly selfish and worldly. A poor man may be just as sinful. The man who makes a god of his body and its pleasures, the man who makes a god of his work or his science, or of anything save the Lord God Almighty, the man who lives for himself and does nothing for the good of others, be he rich or poor, is in the same class with Dives in the parable. Next, there comes a thought of comfort from the story of the beggar Lazarus. There was no virtue in his being poor -- but he loved his God, and he bore his sorrows patiently, and verily he had his reward. Jesus tells us that blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted; that all who have borne hunger and thirst, and persecution, or loss of friends for His sake, shall hereafter have a great reward. You, my brethren, who are any ways afflicted or distressed, who have to bear sickness or poverty, who have few friends and few prospects in this world, and yet are patient, and trustful, and believing, look beyond the veil, and be sure that there, if not here, you shall have your good things -- such good things as pass man's understanding.
Again, we learn that death does not deprive us of memory. One of old said wisely that they who cross the sea change their sky, but not their mind, and that no exile ever yet fled from himself; and even after we have exchanged this world for the unseen world to come, we do not escape ourselves, our thoughts and memories are with us. The rich man was bidden to remember his past life. It must have been a terrible picture as seen in the clear understanding of the spirit world. Once his life had appeared pleasant enough, harmless enough; now Dives saw it in its true colour, and understood the selfishness, the worldliness, the godlessness which had ruined his soul. He saw all the mistakes which he had made, and felt the terrible conviction that it was too late to repair them. "Four things," says the Eastern sage, "come not back again: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity."
My brothers, what fate can be more awful than that of having to look back upon a wasted life through all eternity? God has committed to you a precious trust in the life you have. Your position, your wealth, or poverty are nothing, whatever your life is it must be consecrated to God. You must live for Him, and by Him, and walk in the way of His commandments, if you are to be with Him through eternity. You can make your own choice: God or mammon, this world, or the world to come are before you, but both you cannot have. If you make your Heaven out of the world's materials, you cannot expect to find it again beyond the grave. Lastly, let us learn that the means of grace which we have are sufficient for our salvation. The brothers of the rich man had Moses and the Prophets, and further help was denied them. We have in God's Church, and Sacraments, in God's Word, and in Prayer, the means of drawing near to our Saviour, and saving our soul alive. We must not ask for some new revelation, some fresh Gospel, some sign or miracle. If we use not the means given us, neither shall we be persuaded though one rose from the dead. It is sometimes the fashion in these days to sneer at the preacher, or to listen with a polite contempt. God grant that those "who come to scoff, may remain to pray."