THE GREAT GULF.

BY REV. HARVEY GOODWI, M.A.,
S. LUKE, xvi. 26.
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.
THERE are considerable difficulties belonging
to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, of
which this verse forms a portion, and there are
several ways of viewing the parable, and corre
spondingly several lessons which may be learnt
from it. But I do not propose at this time to
undertake a full discussion of the parable, nor to
attempt to deduce all the lessons which may be
deduced from it; that would take us far beyond
the limits of a sermon : I propose only to take
one particular view and draw one particular kind
of lesson, not saying that it is the only or even
the most important lesson, but feeling that at
THE GREAT GULPH. 217
any rate it is taught by the parable, and is one
which it much concerns our souls peace to study
diligently.
What I wish to bring before you then is the
" great gulph" of which our Lord speaks in the
text, and which, at the time when Abraham is
represented as speaking the words, was "fixed"
between Lazarus and the rich man, a gulph so
wide and impassable that communication was im
possible, and neither could pass from one side to
the other. ow I do not think, that it was our
Lord s desire by this parable to make us speculate
much concerning the nature of the unseen world ;
it is quite characteristic of Scripture not to enter
into details, or excite our curiosity, concerning
the actual manner in which those things shall
come to pass, to which in this life we look forward
as belonging to the next world; as for instance,
in that most extended account of the last judg
ment which is recorded in S. Matth. xxv., our
Lord uses language so manifestly figurative, de
scribing the Son of Man as separating the sheep
from the goats, putting the one on the left hand
and the other on the right, as to make us feel
convinced, that it is the general lesson of the
parable, as enforcing the doctrine of a judgment
according to works, and not the details of that
judgment, upon which our Lord wished us to fix
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218 SERMO XIV.
our minds. So likewise in the parable of the
Rich Man and Lazarus, I do not think that our
Lord intended to teach us any mysteries con
cerning the world of spirits ; He used phraseology
with which His hearers were familiar, when He
spoke of Lazarus being carried to Abraham s
bosom; He revealed nothing really new, when
He spoke of the fire which tormented the rich
man, and of the peace which belonged to Lazarus ;
and therefore, if we propose to ourselves to draw
curious doctrines from the parable respecting the
condition of the departed, we shall probably fall
into grievous error. At the same time we must
remember, that the words of the parable are
Christ s own words, and therefore doubtless con
tain important truth, if only we have the wisdom
to find that truth ; and when He speaks as in the
text of a great gulph fixed between the rich man
and Lazarus, though doubtless He intended not
to give us any information concerning the abode
of the dead, yet we may certainly conclude that
this gulph is something awfully real; and if it
be as impassable as the text represents it, then
may we consider it to be one worthy use of the
parable to call our attention to the existence of
this awful gulph, and to make us reflect on the
means by which we may secure an abode on
Abraham s side of it.
THE GREAT GULPH. 219
I propose then to say something to you con
cerning the impassable gulph, of which the text
speaks; and in order to do so advantageously,
I think it will be well to draw a comparison be
tween the rich man and Lazarus while on earth,
in order that we may see more clearly, how there
came to be such a wide gulph between them
afterwards. ow in your bibles you will find
this parable described as that of " the rich glutton"
but that name does not altogether well describe
the rich man s failing: it is true that he fared
sumptuously every day, but so probably did David,
and so did Solomon; and it is true that while
he himself thus fared sumptuously, he does not
appear to have taken proper pains to supply the
needs of Lazarus : but the rich man s disease was
deeper and more widespread than this ; and those
little circumstances, which are recorded concerning
his life, seem to be intended as hints to guide us
to the real character, of which we have in the
parable only a few indications. I conceive then
that in the rich man our Lord intended us to
see a picture of one, whose mind was so engrossed
by the cares and pleasures of this world, as to
forget altogether the things concerning another;
our Lord speaks in another place of the deceit-
fulness of riches and the lust of other things
creeping into a man s heart, and choking the
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220 SERMO XIV.
good seed of God s word ; here is an example
of this very thing; the pleasure of show and
luxury, of faring sumptuously and being clothed
in purple and line linen, had overlaid and choked
the good seed of Moses and the prophets; the
rich man knew his duty, knew the difference
between right and wrong, knew the danger that
there was in pleasure and luxury, and the wicked
ness that there was in hardheartedness and want
of love to his brethren, but the purple and fine
linen and the pleasures of his sumptuous table
hid all these things from his eyes ; and the con
sequence was, that he lived for this world only,
he lived like a beast, with no higher purpose
than that of filling himself with dainties and
covering his poor body with fine garments.
This seems to me to be the kind of character
which our Lord would paint for us in the rich
man; but here let me observe, that if this be
so, it is by no means necessary that a man should
be richf in order that the same character may
belong in some measure to him; for if worldly-
mindedness, the having the heart set only on
the seen and the temporal, the living for the
body only, the want of spiritualmindedness, the
incapacity of seeing anything beyond this life,
if these be the features of character which our
Lord wished to bring into prominence, then it
THE GREAT GULPH. 221
signifies not whether it be by riches, or by any
other snare of the Devil, that such features are
made to appear: it is true that it is the direct
effect of money or of the love of money, and of
ease and luxury and sloth, to produce such results,
and therefore, when our Lord wished to draw
for us the picture of a worldlyminded unspiritual
man, He represented him as a rich man clothed
in purple and fine linen; but I say that there
are other things besides purple and fine linen
which may bring about a similar result, and a
man who has hard work to earn his daily bread,
may by that very means be brought to some
thing like the same state of worldliness, as that
of the man who fared sumptuously every day.
For the question is just this, and it is a question
for us all, are our hearts entirely set upon the
things of the body? does our happiness consist
in worldly things, or do we see with our souls
inmost eyes, that no purple and fine linen and
no sumptuous fare can give the soul of man the
same abiding peace and joy as the love of God
and the doing good to our fellows? is in fact
the fear of God a more motive principle of action
with us than the love of the world? if not, then
I am sure that whether we recline on the rich
man s couch and eat of his dainties, or whether
we lie at his gate full of sores and asking for
222 SERMO XIV,
the crumbs of his table, it is all one so far as
concerns our spiritual condition ; we are yet of
the earth earthly, we are yet carnal and sensual.
If then this be the kind of character which
our Lord wished us to see in the picture of the
rich man, what does Lazarus represent to us?
he is Described as a very poor man, a beggar,
one in great need and bodily suffering $ and I
have no doubt that our Lord represented him
thus, because there was a great tendency in His
time to look down upon the poor; and it has
been remarked, that whereas our Lord gives us
no name for the rich man, He does give us the
name of the beggar, as though to shew that in His
kingdom worldly rules are reversed, that whereas
we know the names of the great and powerful,
and think comparatively little of the names of
the poor, with Him it is the humble and the
simple whose names appear specially worthy of
record. evertheless, as it was not merely the
rich man s wealth which our Lord wished to point
out to us for our avoidance, but that worldly
spirit of mind which his riches produced, so here
in the case of Lazarus, it is not merely his poverty
and his sufferings, which are to account for the
difference between his destiny and that of the
other, but rather the spirit which his sufferings
wrought in him and the manner in which he
THE GREAT GULPH. 223
bore them. It is true that our Lord does not
enter into any explanation on this head, but I
think you will see at once that He intended to
draw in Lazarus a picture of one, who was
softened by suffering and made to see that this
was not his rest, and who was able therefore to be
cheerful under God s affliction and to believe that
all things worked together for his good. And if
this be so, then you will see that the character
which Lazarus exhibited may be exhibited by each
of us whether rich or poor; for he who uses this
world as not abusing it, who feels that there is
something more serious and solemn in this life
than mere pleasure, who feels that the vanity
of this life, of which Solomon complained, can
only be neutralized by strong earnest hopes of an
inheritance undefiled and that fadeth not away,
reserved in the heavens, that man, I say, whe
ther rich or poor, has realized the state of mind
which want and pain wrought in Lazarus. And
as wealth rightly used does not hinder this state
of mind, so poverty does not necessarily ensure
it ; nay, poverty does very often produce the di
rectly opposite effect, making a man fix all his
heart and his energies on his daily bread, and
encouraging him to think that there is abundance
of excuse for him if he neglect religion ; and
I have often grieved over the utterly carnal un-
224 SERMO XIV.
spiritual mind, which has been engendered in a
man, not because he has been tempted by luxury,
but because he has had his heart set only on
the daily bread which perishes, and not on that
bread which cometh down from Heaven, which
a man may eat and live for ever. In few words,
the contrast in the parable is not between riches
and poverty, so much as between irreligion and
religion, between worldliness and spirituality, be
tween the mind set upon things seen and tem
poral and the heart set upon things unseen and
eternal.
ow, having endeavoured to draw as clearly
as I can the real distinction between the two
persons of whom the parable speaks, let us look
to the contrast between their condition when this
life had come to an end and the other life com
menced. Lazarus we read died, and was carried
by angels into Abraham s bosom ; an expression
by which (as I have before observed) our Lord
does not appear to give us any particular insight
into the condition of spirits departed, but only
adopts a common phrase to express that Lazarus
had gone to those painless regions, where the
spirits of just men await the final doom of all
things : whatever may be the immediate condition
of departed souls the lesson of our Lord s parable
is the same, and therefore I think it is not wise
THE GREAT GULPH. 225
10 lay any particular stress upon the manner in
vhich He has described this condition; the great
point is, that Lazarus rested from his labours
1 laving died in the Lord, and that the rich man
rested not. Of the rich man we read that he
died and was buried; Lazarus burial was not
mentioned, he might have been utterly neglected
and never buried at all, but the rich man died
and was buried, oh yes there was a stately
funeral, and weeping friends, and those five
brethren who changed their purple and fine linen
for the nonce into the dark robes of mourners,
and there was all the solemnity which outward
appliances can give to the burial of the dead ;
but there was not that which Lazarus had, and
which was worth far more than all the pomp
of the rich man s funeral, there were no angels
to carry him to Abraham s bosom. Thus Lazarus
died and was carried by angels to Abraham s
bosom, and the rich man died and was buried;
an awful contrast, and one which describes, with
something like a solemn irony, the difference
between the end of him who has his portion in
this life and that of him who has his portion in
the next: for the man who has lived for God,
whose soul is united to Him the father of spirits,
may be truly said to be carried away of angels j
for though his body is buried, yet it was never
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226 SERMO XIV.
his mere body that he accounted to be truly
himself, and therefore when his body decays yet
he himself liveth through the power of Christ
for evermore ; but he who lives for this world,
whose spiritual life is extinguished (as it were)
because the body and the body s wants have
ever been his principal end, he dies at length
and is buried ; that body for which he cared so
much, toiled so much, that body which he counted
to be himself, forgetting that he was a spirit
which should live for evermore, that body is
buried, and with it all his hopes and cares go
to the grave too.
This then is the contrast between the ends of
these two men ; and now I wish to call your
attention to that lasting distinction between their
conditions, which the text brings before us. Abra
ham says, that between the rich man and Lazarus
a great gulph was fixed, so that none could pass
from one side to the other 5 a great gulph fixed /
observe, it is no slight interval, no trifling dif
ference, but it is a chasm, a gulph, and a wide
one j and moreover it is fixed, the word in the
original Greek is quite as strong in its meaning
as that which our English Version has given,
perhaps stronger ; it means that this gulph or
chasm has been firmly and durably established,
that it is no slight or accidental distinction which
THE GREAT GULPH. 227
it may be hoped that time will blot out, but that
it is a deep wide gap, which no reasoning can
hide and no time can ever heal. ow I think
it most necessary, that as this is our Saviour s
own description, we should take His words in all
the fulness of their meaning, of course not strain
ing them beyond their intention, but also not
cutting off from them any of their strength : I
admit that they are awful words, I admit that
the very thought of the possibility of an impas
sable gulph being ever fixed between ourselves
and God, is a thought full of the most frightful
horror 5 nevertheless our Lord spake such words
in love, and it is only wise and pious in us to
receive our Lord s words thoughtfully and strive
to turn them to good account.
What I conceive then that our Lord asserts in
the text is this, that there is a great impassable
gulph fixed between the spiritual condition of those
whom He represents by the rich man, and those
whom He represents by Lazarus : and I have
endeavoured to make clear what was the dif
ference between these two men in this life, in
order that we might be able to account for the
difference between them in the other; the great
gulph is not between the rich and the poor, not
between those who have been favoured by God
in this life and those who have been chastened
228 SERMO XIV.
by Him, but it is between those who have so
used this world as to starve their spirits, those
who have fixed their eyes so firmly on the things
of time and sense that they could not see the
realities of a future world, those who have be
come carnal and sensualized because they must
needs give all their efforts to feed their bodies
and have been content to leave their souls un-
cared for, those who have heard the sound of
the Gospel and have been taught the conde
scension of God in Christ, and how He became
poor that they might be rich, and how He denied
Himself that they might lack nothing, and these
things have been to them as idle tales, as music
to the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears, the
great gulph is, I say, fixed between such as these,
and those who have lived in this world as not
abusing it, knowing that the fashion of it passeth
away, those who have lived not by sight but by
faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But who fixed
this gulph? surely not the Father who would
not the death of a sinner, nor the Son who
redeemed us from the curse, nor the Holy Spirit
who sanctifies God s elect; no, it was the rich
man himself who fixed it there ! to what purpose
was his life given him, but that he might make
himself fit for Heaven? to what purpose had he
Moses and the Prophets, but to warn him of the
THE GREAT GULPH. 229
duty of loving God and his neighbour, and ever
living in the fear of God? and he had neglected
all these things, year after year had passed away
and found him still no better, still faring sump
tuously, still dressed in purple, but his soul as
starved and naked as ever, and every year had
more and more widened the gulph and fixed it
more firmly; and so when he woke up in an
other world, he only reaped the fruit of the
things done in the body, and the gulph was
fixed indeed, but fixed by his own labours be
fore he died and was buried.
And without pretending to go into the deep
mystery of the other world, yet this at least is
enough to shew us the greatness of the gulph
and why it is so firmly fixed : the joys of heaven
are- spiritual, there is no pleasure there for a man
who has no fear of God, no pleasure in obeying
Him; and therefore he, who by a long course
of carelessness and self-indulgence and neglect
of God and neglect of his duties, has hardened
his soul and rendered himself incapable of any but
the grossest pleasures of the body, has thereby
himself put a gulph between Heaven and him ; he
has an opportunity of fitting himself for Heaven,
and he has neglected it; he has acted as though
he had no spirit, and so his body has become his
god; therefore, if when the end comes he finds
230 SERMO XIV.
that Heaven has no joys for him, who has fixed
the gulph but himself? and who can remove it,
when the time expressly given for preparation is
gone, and the time of judgment is at hand ? And
oh, what a wide gulph must it be, when it is the
result not of a single act, but of a whole life
abused, a whole life spent in the service of the
flesh instead of being consecrated to God !
Oh, Christian Brethren, it is a fearful thing
to think upon that which the text brings before
our mind ! I am quite certain that men do not
in general fully realize the awful breadth of the
gulph, nor the firmness with which it is fixed;
and they often try to persuade themselves, that
God is so merciful that in some way that gulph
will be bridged over: but what if the gulph be
not of God s making but their own? what if
the gulph be growing wider and wider, while
they are wasting their time instead of working
out their salvation? It is not for me, nor for
any man, to judge of the breadth of the gulph
which will lie between any one man and God;
but it is for me to assert, that it is possible so
to forget God in this life, so to smother the soul
beneath worldliness and sensuality, as to fix an
impassable gulph between the soul and God. And
the mere possibility of this should make all of us
ask ourselves earnestly and with trembling, how
THE GREAT GULPH. 231
far we are improving our opportunities; this is
the seed-time of a long existence, and he who
does not sow good seed, or having sown it does
not water it and weed it, may not complain if
his crop fail in the end. And we, Brethren, have
all our opportunities of serving God, and acting
in His fear, and training our spirits in love to
Him and love to our brethren ; the rich man had
but Moses and the Prophets, but we have the reve
lation of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, we have
such knowledge of Him and of His ways, and such
means of being strengthened by Him, as the men
of old time never had nor could have; therefore
let us thank God for our advantages and strive
to improve them, ever remembering that of those
to whom much is given much also will be required,
and that if the gulph be not closed it will yawn
all the wider, and be more firmly fixed, on account
of privileges abused. And remember, Christian
Brethren, that in all your actions you are working
for eternity, that you are now forming a character
which must last for evermore, and that if you live
not for God in this life, you cannot live with Him
in another; look well then to all you think, or
do, or say; and pray God that His Spirit may
so transform your hearts in this world, that your
souls may be fitted for those spiritual joys which
are at His right hand for evermore.
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