There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke xvi. 19, 20, 21.
Thus unequal is the distribution of the good things of the present life; thus apparently unjust are the dispensations of Providence. We behold here a rich man, surrounded by every luxury which can conduce to his splendour, his ease, or his enjoyment. His wealth procured for him all the richest productions of the earth, and his table daily exhibited every delicacy that could excite or gratify his appetite. "He was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." How often is the extreme of wretchedness contrasted with the elevation of prosperity! At the gate of this voluptuous sensualist, whose ingenuity doubtless was exercised to dispose of his superfluous wealth, was laid Lazarus, a beggar, subsisting from day to day on the pittance which his entreaties extorted from the careless sons of prosperity, or which some sympathizing heart bestowed. The pains of loathsome disease aggravated the cravings [476/477] of hunger--he was "full of sores:" and thus was laid a pitiable and wretched outcast at the rich man's gate. The cravings of hunger extorted the entreaty to be fed, if it were only with "the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table." But in vain he stretehed forth the hand of supplication and uttered the cry of entreaty; in vain did the look of anguish and the tear of misery make the silent but powerful appeal to the bosoms of those around him. Disgusted with his extreme wretchedness, it appears they left him, without succour and without consolation. Exposed and abandoned, "the dogs came and licked his sores."
My brethren, when we behold this virtuous man (for such is the character which he sustains in the parable) sinking under the ills of poverty and sickness, while the voluptuous sensualist, at whose gate he was laid, rolled on the couch of ease and luxury; when we behold him perishing for want of the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, whose pampered appetite was sated with the delicacies that, in luxurious profusion, were spread before him; we are tempted to exclaim, in the murmurs of impatient distrust--"What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him? Verily we have cleansed our hearts in vain, and washed our hands in innocency." These are the suggestions which sometimes arise in our minds, when we behold vice exalted in the world, and virtue suffering and degraded. But, my brethren, if we look beyond this dark and imperfect state of trial to the final development of the plans of Providence in that future world which will be our final and eternal abode, the murmurs of discontent and repining will be [477/478] silenced, and in the ardours of pious adoration we shall embrace the triumphant belief--"Verily there is a reward for the righteous; doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth." For
"It came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried: and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
What a change is this! The poor beggar who was laid at the gate, whose famished bosom would have been refreshed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table--the wretched victim of poverty and disease, from whom men turned with disgust--whose wretchedness was so extreme, and whose situation so friendless, that even the doge came and licked his sores--is now exalted to a state of happiness and glory: while the rich man, who in the world, which he made his portion, was "clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day," has exchanged the splendid and luxurious chamber for the dungeon of wo, and the voluptuous joys of sensual gratification for the worm that never dies, and the fire that never will be quenched.
We are not to understand by the "bosom of Abraham," in which Lazarus rested, the heaven of final happiness; for the Gospel uniformly represents that the glories of heaven are not awarded to the righteous "till the resurrection at the last day," when the body which, after the departure of the soul, was consigned to corruption, will rise in glory, and, united to the soul, be translated to the everlasting kingdom of God. The "bosom of Abraham," where Lazarus rested), is a figurative [478/479] expression for that invisible place where the souls of the pious repose in hope, in joy, and peace, till the glorious morn of the resurrection--and which is called Paradise, in the declaration of Christ to the penitent thief upon the cross--"This day thou shalt be with me" (not in heaven, for the Saviour did not ascend there till after his resurrection, but) "in paradise."
In the like manner, by the hell in which the rich man lift up his eyes, is not meant the final hell of torments; this final hell of torments is expressed in the original by a different word from that which is denoted hell in the parable. To this everlasting abode of condemned spirits the Gospel represents none as consigned till the period of the general resurrection. The bodies of the wicked will then be united to their souls; and the awful sentence which consigns them to the final hell (gehenna) of torments, will be pronounced upon them. By the hell in the parable is meant the invisible place, the place of departed spirits, where the souls of the wicked remain in unutterable misery, tortured by the fearful anticipation of that just judgment which will finally consign them to the place prepared for the devil and his angels. In this place of the departed the rich man lifts up his eyes; her beholds afar off Lazarus, the beggar who once lay at his gate, in the bosom of Abraham, in a state of inconceivable blessedness and glory, while his soul was racked by torment. He burst forth in the cry for mercy--
"Father Abraham, have mercy on me."
He sought to have the fires that consumed him quenched:
"Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his [479/480] finger in water and cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame."
"Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."
Thou hast had thy reward in the world which thou didst choose as thy portion. That world was embittered to Lazarus. He chose a better portion, and is now enjoying the blessed fruits of his choice.
"And besides all this"--
Your destiny and his are unalterably determined--
"Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither can they pass to us, who would come from thence."
The unhappy man, finding that his own state was hopeless, is filled with apprehension for his surviving brethren, who, as he once was, are immersed in sensual indulgence:
"I pray thee, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment."
Equally fruitless was this request.
"Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets"--
These are a sure guide in the path of duty, and fully and forcibly point out the fatal termination of that course of sensual indulgence which has proved your destruction--
"Let them hear them. Nay, father Abraham," (exclaims this miserable man, who, wretched himself, appears anxious to save his brethren, the [480/481] former companions of his guilty pleasures, from this place of torment;) "but if one went unto them from the dead they would repent." A miracle so extraordinary would convert them; a messenger from the world of spirits, denouncing to them those miseries which he has himself witnessed, will surely rouse them.
"If they hear not Moses and the prophets," was the reply, "neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
The revelation of Moses and the prophets is sufficiently clear and satisfactory; and the same perverse incredulity, the same guilty devotion to sensual enjoyments, which led them to reject the warnings of Moses and the prophets, will induce them to turn a deaf ear also to the remonstrances of one who rose from the dead.
Such is the conclusion of this important parable--for a parable, and not an authentic history, it evidently is. The manner of its introduction, the style and the imagery employed, and the absurdity and inconsistency which would attend a literal interpretation of it, all prove that it is not an authentic record of real, but of fictitious character and events. And as a parable, it is not to be strictly and literally interpreted; it being designed, in its general purport only, to inculcate important truths. To these truths let me now call your attention.
1. And in the first place, we learn that the real condition of men, as to their happiness or misery, is not to be determined by their outward circumstances in the world.
Look at the prosperous sinner; wealth, splendour, and gaiety surround him; the East furnishes [481/482] him with "purple and fine linen," which serve the purposes of splendour and luxurious indulgence; every luscious delicacy which can inflame or gratify his appetites is placed on his table; "the harp and the viol, the tabret and the pipe," banish care and melancholy, and awaken the joys of revelry and mirth. We are ready to pronounce, How supremely happy is this favoured son of fortune! He has no desire which he does not possess the means of gratifying; the world opens to him all her stores of indulgence. But we are deceived in the estimate of his real condition. Occupied solely with sensual pursuits, he possesses not that peace of mind which results only from living agreeably to the dictates of reason and conscience; and he is a stranger to that "peace of God" which results only from a faithful devotion to his service, and which only can confer true and substantial enjoyment. There is no peace to him in this world; and the day is coming, when the hand of God is to write against him the fearful sentence--"Thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting." "In hell he lifts up his eyes, being in torments."
Look at the beggar at his gate; he is wasted with hunger--the crumbs which fall from the rich man's table would be a luxury to his soul; he is tortured with disease--there is no eye to pity, no hand to save him; naked, exposed, friendless, "the dogs come and lick his sores." Dark is the cloud that rests on this poor beggar; but the light of God's countenance shines on his soul. He is infinitely more honoured, infinitely more blessed than the proud voluptuary at whose gate he waits; for Lazarus is the friend of God; he is soon to be rt carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom."
 "Judge not then, brethren, according to appearance." It is an error to call those happy, whom wealth decorates with worldly distinction, and surrounds with every sensual gratification--it is an error which is most dangerous, because it leads us to seek for happiness only in the riches, the honours, and the pleasures of the world. Those alone are to be accounted truly happy, who possess that peace of God which the world can neither give nor take away, and have laid up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt. And those only are to be accounted really miserable, who have no title to the favour of him whose favour is life, and whose loving-kindness is better than life, and are exposed to the wrath of him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell: the pangs of conscience, the agitations of guilty passions, which here mar their peace, are increased by the fearful apprehensions of that future World, where are laid up for the ungodly, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. The consciousness of his integrity, the firm assurance of God's favour, comforted the afflicted Job. The wrath of the Almighty blasted the pleasures of a prosperous Belteshazzar. The favour of the Most High, refreshing, and consoling, and strengthening the soul, can render the condition of the beggar at the gate infinitely more to be desired than that of the voluptuary who revels in the palace.
2. We may remark how fatal is the termination of a life which, though not stained with gross criminality, is devoted merely to sensual indulgence.
What were the crimes which marked the character, and which occasioned the fearful destiny of the [483/484] rich man in the parable? It does not appear that any very glaring vices disgraced his character; no gross sin is laid to his charge. We have no reason to conclude that the rich man in the parable was an abandoned, profligate sinner. He is described as "clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day." He was a voluptuary, devoted only to sensual gratifications. He made the world his idol. He placed his sole happiness in the splendour and ostentation of wealth, in the scenes of revelling, banqueting, and merriment. The care of his soul was forgotten, or neglected; the things that belonged to his eternal peace were put far off. Most probably he boasted of his freedom from the stain of gross vices; perhaps he prided himself on his open, free, and generous temper; and thus soothed himself with the hope that, as he had committed no gross vices, his reckoning would be easy at the bar of God. And, alas! men often sooth their consciences, and lull themselves into security by the same plea:--they do no harm in the world, they commit no gross sins; why should they fear to appear before God? Let them look at the fate of the rich man in the parable. Notwithstanding his freedom from glaring sins, the boasted innocence of his life, and the generous frankness with which he spread his board for the gratification of his companions, "in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments." How fatal was his delusion! and what a lesson does his fate read to those whose hearts are supremely bent on the world and its pleasures; who devote themselves to sensual gratifications, and while they preserve themselves free from glaring transgressions, think that they have nothing to fear! Look at this rich [484/485] voluptuary; your Saviour presents him as a warning to you. He deluded himself with the same hope with which you are flattering yourselves, that God would not punish him for those sensual gratifications which did no harm to others. And where did this hope lead him? "In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments." "Walk then in the sight of your eyes, and in the imagination of your own hearts; but know, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment."
3. There is an important lesson which all who are blessed with wealth may derive from the parable before us.
Wealth, like every other advantage, natural or acquired, which we possess, is a talent intrusted to us by God, whose stewards we are to consider ourselves, and to whom we are to render an account. A liberal portion of the wealth with which he has blessed us, we must give back to him, by devoting it to the purposes of benevolence and piety: the residue we are not prohibited from devoting, in thankful moderation, to the purposes of personal and social gratification. But when, like the rich man in the parable, we devote this wealth to those voluptuous indulgences that corrupt the soul and estrange it from God, then it wilt prove a curse to its possessor. To such a rich man the declaration of our blessed Lord will apply--"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
4. We notice, as strikingly set forth in this parable, the awful destiny of the wicked.
 No sooner do they close their eyes upon this world, than, like the rich man in the parable, they are in "torments"--torments, of which the fearful agonies of remorse, that sometimes here tear the bosom of the sinner, afford but a faint idea; and compared to which, the fires that consume the victim at the stake could be easily borne. Their souls, when death rends them from the body, are consigned to inconceivable misery in the place of the departed; and at the day of judgment, their bodies united to their souls, they make their bed in hell--in devouring fire--in everlasting burnings; so says the word of God. To all eternity, to all eternity they cry, cry without ceasing--"Give me a drop of water to cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." To all eternity they cry in vain. Alarming reflection! My brethren, if we live in neglect of God and of his service--if we, devoted only to the world, neglect the care of our souls--we shall finally dwell with the devouring fire--we must lie down with everlasting burnings; so, I repeat it, says the word of God; and would it be wise to make the experiment whether that word be true? And the event which is to consign us to this awful destiny--the event of death--is uncertain: it will come after the revolution of a few years--it may come to-morrow--it may come to-day.
5. We remark further, as exhibited in this parable, how glorious are the rewards of the righteous.
Like the pious Lazarus, as soon as their spirit departs from the body, attending angels receive it, and conduct it to the place of the departed, to that place which their .Redeemer blessed with his [486/487] presence in the interval between his death and his resurrection. They rest in the bosom of blessedness--in the society of the Father of the faithful--of all the saints who have departed in the faith of his holy name. There they are cheered by manifestations of the divine glory and perfections; and they anticipate, with holy rapture, their re-union with their glorified bodies, at the resurrection of the just. They look forward with holy and joyful confidence to the period when their corruption shall put on incorruption, and their mortal immortality--when the welcome sentence shall be addressed to them--"Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
Christian brethren, let us comfort one another with these words. Cheered by the glorious prospect which they present, let us follow our Christian friends from the bed of disease and death to the bosom of Abraham, to the custodies of that Almighty Saviour who holds the keys of death and hell; let us in holy imagination follow them--made like to the angels of God, invested with the garments of immortality--to the kingdom of their Almighty Father; and let us not sorrow, because they have gone before us to the place of rest and peace, as those that have no hope.
Lastly. We remark, as enforced by this parable, on the guilt of those who reject or disregard the offers of salvation proclaimed in the Gospel.
How great would be the obstinacy, the incredulity, and the guilt of those who would reject a messenger coming unto them from the dead, and announcing the awful realities of the invisible [487/488] world! Such was the obstinacy, the incredulity, and the guilt of the Jews, who rejected the testimony of that divine Personage who arose from the dead to assure them of the certainty of a future state--that God would judge the world in righteousness. Such is now the obstinacy, the incredulity, and the guilt of those who contemn or neglect the offers of salvation from him who has brought life and immortality to light. Would they be persuaded if one were to rise from the dead? The testimony of all ages to those divine miracles which Christ wrought--the numerous prophecies which were fulfilled in his person, and in the condition of those who were once God's chosen people--the excellence of his holy religion, the sublime nature of its doctrines, the sanctity of its precepts, the efficacy of its aids, the value of its consolations, the splendour of its rewards, and the awful severity of its punishments--the warnings of God's providence--the secret monitions and strivings of his Spirit--the denunciations of his justice, the invitations of his mercy--the terrors of hell, the hopes of heaven--if all these do not convince or move them, "neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." Alas! how shall they escape, who neglect so great salvation?--who, immersed in worldly pursuits and sinful pleasures, neglect that one thing needful, the care of their immortal souls. Let them consider the fate of the rich man in the parable. They are now gay and thoughtless; so he once was. They are forgetful of God and eternity; such was once the forgetfulness of the rich man. "In hell he lifts up his eyes, being in torments." If the world could purchase that day of grace which ho contemned, do we not [488/489] think that the world, if he possessed it, would be joyfully given? My brethren, that day of grace we now enjoy; let us not neglect it, lest, like this hapless sinner, we lift up our eyes, being in torments--lest, like him, we cry for mercy, but it is too late.
Christian brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord: for your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. Through the cares and trials of life, that God to whom you have devoted yourselves, and whom you endeavour faithfully to serve, will support you. Be not dismayed at the dark valley of the shadow of death; your Saviour shall conduct you through it. Death he will strip for you of its sting, and the grave of its victory. From this vale of tears you shall be translated, like the pious Lazarus, to the paradise of God. When your earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, you shall be clothed upon with a house which is from heaven--when you have passed the region of the grave, you shall come to the city of the living God, where flow the waters of life, of comfort, of salvation.