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Preached in St. James's Episcopal Church, Aberdeen.
St. Luke, xvi. 26. " 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."
' < Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed. ' ' So might Dives have said to Lazarus in the days of his vanished splendour. For what deeper gulf is there than that which yawns between luxury and poverty? What more impassable barriers are there than those erected by caste and prejudice and pride between the widely separated extremes of social life. This social gulf, as it existed in His own time, Christ has vividly depicted for us in the parable from which our text is taken. First He paints for us Dives, probably a sleek courtier of Herod, grown enormously wealthy by some unjust monopoly granted to him by the royal tyrant ; or some Tyrian merchant whose ships touched at every port and exchanged the famous Tyrian dye for all the treasures and luxuries of the world. Dives probably lived in a dwelling which was in all but in name a palace. If we would picture to ourselves his home we cannot be far wrong in conjuring up before us one of the more sumptuous dwellings of the East in those days. Its walls would be of marble, wainscotted within with ivory or alabaster. It would enclose courtyards shaded with costly awnings and cooled by plashing fountains. Bright coloured hangings would make gay its interior ;
while every article which use could demand or luxury create would adorn its lofty chambers. His manner of life, too, Christ vividly depicts for us in two words. The words which are translated in the Authorised Version " faring sumptuously every day " may more literally be rendered " living daily in mirth and splendour." Dives then lived in mirth and splendour; every dainty that could stimulate the palate, every instrument of music 20
Dives and Lazarus
that could ravish the ear, every glittering bauble that could delight the eye was to be found at his frequent banquets. Those who passed that stately mansion after sunset would gaze with envy at the windows whence light and laughter and music streamed into the night. And the rich man's personal adornments were in keeping with his other surroundings, for Christ describes even these. Christ, I think, did not love luxury or effeminacy. You will remember how, when speaking of the stern and heroic Baptist, He said : ' ' What went ye out for to see ? A man clothed in
soft raiment?" and then added with a touch of scorn, " Behold those who are gorgeously apparelled and live delicately are in king's courts." (Luke vii. 25.) I can imagine a similar tone of scorn in the Master's voice as he described how this rich man was clothed in the Tyrian purple, which only nobles and great men might wear, and in " fine linen " representing a fabric which in those days was worth twice its weight in gold. Such was Dives, in the eyes of his fellows most enviable and prosperous, but in the eyes of God the most miserable and pitiable of all the sons of men.
And now let us turn to Lazarus. What a contrast ! And yet a contrast which can be paralleled in any of our great towns this very minute. Who that has a mind to think and a heart to feel can fail to be moved at such inequalities ! Lazarus was a beggar. But remember a beggar then was not the same thing as a beggar now. Then there were no Poor Laws, no hospitals, no charitable institutions of any kind. It was quite possible for a man to be honest, industrious, self-respecting — and yet when sickness or misfortune came upon him there was no other alternative but beggary or starvation. Lazarus was a beggar, and not only that, but so helpless with disease that he could not walk ; he had to be carried by others and laid at the rich man's gate. And the depths of his degradation is shown by this, he had no human sympathisers, but the dogs came and licked the sores. Dogs in the East, remember, are not the friends and companions of men, they are pariahs driven out of the city by day who return at day and prowl about the lanes in search of refuse and garbage. Lazarus and these dogs were companions in misfortune, and were looked upon by men as about on
the same level ; both lived on what they could pick up in the street, both inspired disgust, both were pariahs and outcasts. No picture of degradation and misery could be completer than that depicted in these words " moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."
Dives and Lazarus. 155
Thus was it with these two men in their lifetime. Thus it continued to be, as the world judges, to the very last. Death at length put an end to the sufferings of Lazarus and the, passers by no longer saw with glances of disgust or pity the familjj|^^!re of the beggar at the rich man's gate. In course of time the rich mdn also died, and I have no doubt had a royal funeral. I dare say h^Splendid entertainments were much missed by his richer neighbours. I dare say they both regretted him and praised him for, as the psalmist acutely says, " So long as thou doest well unto thyself men will speak good of thee. " (Psalm xlix. 18.) Thus pomp and grandeur followed Dives into the shadowy realm of death, and neglect and misery were the attendants of Lazarus to the last. But let us take a step farther and what a sudden and awful reversal takes place in the fate of these two men. Lazarus woke to consciousness in Abraham's bosom, that is, in bliss; the rich man lifted up his eyes only to find that he was in torments. He asked that Lazarus might be sent to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue, and he was told that it was impossible. He asked that he might be permitted to warn his brethren, and learnt that it was too late even for
him to do good. Now God forbid that we should exaggerate the awful picture here presented to us. Granted that the hell here spoken of is not the place of the finally impenitent, but the place where departed spirits await the judgment, and therefore not necessarily eternal. Granted that the flame here spoken of is no more to be taken away literally than Abraham's bosom is to be taken literally. Granted that the parable represents Dives as still retaining some traces of goodness, since he loves his brethren, and that, therefore, his case cannot have been utterly hopeless. But when all this has been allowed, can that have been anything but awful which Christ depicts in such awful language ? Can we deny that the sufferings which Lazarus endured in this world, were as nothing compared with the sufferings which Dives brought upon himself in the world beyond the grave ? And if it be so let us pause and consider what was the crime of Dives, that we may avoid his terrible fate.
What was the sin of Dives? Not that he lived in mirth and splendour, but that he allowed the sounds of mirth to drown the moan of the world's misery, and the splendour to dazzle his eyes from beholding the evils of which society is full. Not that he was clad in purple and fine linen, but that he suffered the luxuries by which he was surrounded to lull him into complacent ease careless of other's needs, f* In the thought of him that
156 Dives and Lazarus.
is at ease there is contempt for misfortune," says Job. (Job xii. 5.) How fundamentally true of human nature is that ? Dives was guilty of this contempt. He was not, I think, a positively cruel man. Do you suppose Lazarus was a nice object to have there lying at his gate — a beggaa, clothed in rags, and full of loathsome sores ? Yet it is evident that he allowed him to be placed there, and to profit by his neighbourhood to so much luxury. At least, he did not interfere with the servants who gave him the crumbs and broken bread swept from his bounteous table. Yes, but although not positively cruel he was indifferent. He did not recognise the claims of that man's brotherhood. He said practically to the beggar b) that proud and supercilious demeanour with which he passed him by, " Between us andjwc there is a great gulf fized." His sin was that he neglected to do anything to close that gulf or to bridge it over with the golden bridge of love. It was not what he had done, but what he had left undone that ruined Dives. It was that he never sought to lesson the distance between luxury and poverty, that he never stooped in sympathy, never took the beggar's hand, or listened in compassion to the beggar's tale of woe. It was that he held personal ministrations were not to be thought of in such a case. It was, in fact, that he acquiesced in the yawning abyss which separated them and accepted the world's code in such matters. He could not and would not be on the same side of the gulf as pauper Lazarus. And mark the result, brethren, on the same side of the gulf he never was ! In the other world the gulf was there still, as fixed as ever; but, alas for Dives, he and Lazarus had changed sides. It was part of the system of Divine reprisals. For if anyone had gone to the rich man during his lifetime, and had besought him to close the gulf, and to show personal
sympathy and kindness to the beggar, what would he have replied? He would replied as we are so apt to do. He would have called it impracticable and impossible. He would have said there must always be some abjectly poor, and it was even better that it should be so. He would have said, "I and Lazarus are so widely separated by birth, by education, by habits, that we are almost different creatures. I cannot have friendship and sympathy with such as he." Cannot? Alas, for Dives ! As he has pronounced it, so it must be. That word ' ' cannot ' ' still intervenes betwixt him and Lazarus, but it is heard from the other side of the gulf now. " They that would pass from us to you, cannot ; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence."
Dives and Lazarus. 157
Brethren, this parable is a danger signal to warn us. It says to each one of us : " Take care ! What you are to others, God is to you ; as you deal with others, God will deal with you." Would you know how you stand as regards God ? See how you stand as regards your fellow men. Many hundreds of years before Christ, David wrote : " With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful, with the perfect man Thou wilt show Thyself perfect, with the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure, and with the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward." (Psalm xviii. 25.) And this is the very essence of Christ's Gospel. Do you need gifts daily from the hands of God? " Give and it shall be given you, good measure pressed
down and shaken together and running over." (Luke vi. 38.) Do you need mercy ? Vainly shall you seek it unless you practise it ; it is only the merciful who shall obtain mercy. Do you need daily forgiveness for sins without number daily committed? " Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." (Luke vi. 37); but "if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespass." (Matt. vi. 15.) Or do you look forward with awe and fear to the Day of Judgment, knowing full well your ill deserts? " Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned." (Luke vi. 57.) It is thus God governs the world. This it is which makes religion so intensely practical a thing. Daily, hourly, we are engaged in pronouncing sentence upon ourselves. Our treatment of our fellows fixes and decides God's treatment of us. So if we would avoid this rich man's terrible fate, let us beware of pride. So surely as we treat with supercilious neglect any human creature, so surely as we seek to look down upon them or to keep them at a distance, so surely do we put an impassable gulf betwixt ourselves and God. For it is written : ' ' Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly ; but as for the proud He beholdeth them afar off." (Psalms cxxxviii. 6.) All heaven and hell are summed up in this saying : " With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again." (Matt. vii. 2.)
And, secondly, this Parable is a way-post to guide us. It points out a very different path to happiness from that to which the voices of ambition and pleasure invite us. It is a commentary upon those two mysterious sayings : " Blessed are ye poor." (Luke vi. 20), and " How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." (Mark x. 23.) It teaches
us that we are stewards, not owners, of this world's goods ; that our watchword must be service, not privilege ; that wealth is given not to lavish
158 Dives and Lazarus.
upon self, but to expend for the good of others. It says to us : " When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends . . . nor thy rich neighbours, but call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind . . for they cannot recompense thee." (Luke xiv. 12, &c.) It tells us not to waste all our sympathy and friendship, as Dives did, upon our equals and our fellows, but to keep some of it for the misery which lies at our gates.
Brethren, there are two classes in this world, the gay and the sad, the prosperous and the outcast, the favourites of fortune and the children of indigence and misery and sin. For which of these classes will you declare yourself, to which shall your warmest sympathy, your readiest help be given ? We know on which side Christ declared Himself. He came to range Himself with the sad, as a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief; with the outcast as one despised and rejected of men; with the indigent as He who had not where to lay His head ; with the sinful as one numbered with the transgressors, and taunted as a friend of publicans and sinners. In your daily walk with which will you sympathise, for which will you work ?
I know how much more difficult it is to be wisely charitable now than it was under the conditions to which this parable refers. I know how the problem is complicated by the utter worthlessness of the mendicant class, by the danger of destroying self-respect even when our alms are given to the worthy, and by the very magnitude of the evil appalling us by its vastness and paralysing us with a sense of our impotence to grapple with it. But I know also that Christ will excuse no man from this warfare. I know He has used His strongest denunciations against those who from sloth, or cowardice, or self-love, decline the conflict. I know that He will give to those that ask, the tact, the prudence, and the patience which are our best weapons in this contest. It will avail us nothing hereafter to plead the difficulties of our task, or to exclaim, " Lord, I knew Thee that Thou art an austere man." The parable points out our duty. It is for us to do it.
But are we doing it ? Have we tried to fill up the gulf which still yawns betwixt Dives and Lazarus? Have we cast one stone into its chasms? Or, have we, like Dives, been content to say, "They which would pass from us to you cannot." Or worse still, have we mocked at all such teaching as this and called it impracticable. Remember, it was
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such derision that originally called forth the story of Dives and Lazarus. Christ had said, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon," and then we read "The Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided Him." (Luke xvi. 14.) Shall we, who have heard the parable, deride still ? Far, far short of our duty in this respect must the best of us fall ; the bright ideal Christ holds up to us seems often inaccessible as a star. But at least let us avoid the indifference of Dives, lest we share also his condemnation.
Does anyone here say he is not a wealthy man, and that therefore the parable does not apply to him ? Or does anyone say he has nothing to give? What, not even the widow's mite? Not even the cup of cold water ? Not even a word of sympathy ? Is there nothing you can do, nothing you can give up by which the inequalities of life may be made less glaring, its miseries less poignant, its sinfulness less heinous ? If not, you are no disciple of Christ. For remember love, and love only, is religion in its essence. On the last great day if we are placed on Christ's left hand instead of His right; if His word to us is "Depart ye cursed " and not " Come ye blessed " ; if instead of basking in the sunshine of His love we wither beneath His frown, it will be not necessarily because we have rejected any creed or any system of theology. It will be because the Judge shall say to us, "I was an hungered and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave Me no drink ; I was a stranger and ye took Me not in j naked and ye clothed Me not ; sick and in prison and ye visited Me not." (Matt. xxv. 42.) We shall learn to our infinite surprise and confusion, that the beggar who lay at our gate is the Judge who is judging
us, and that in neglecting Lazarus we neglected Christ.
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