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Sr. LUKE xvi, 25, 26. “ But 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. And besides 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." WHE parable which we have read as to-day's gospel
one can sit down to reflect upon the truths which it teaches without at once perceiving that it opens out views and prospects upon subjects of the deepest moment to every child of man. We have in it a view of life and of the differing lots of men in life. We have a death in it and a funeral. The holy Angels are introduced to our notice as ministering to the holy dead and carrying their departed spirits to that rest which saints enjoy. A picture is drawn for us of that mysterious region where souls live between death and judgment, a gulf dividing it into two separate portions which have no passage between them. The misery of those who are expecting hell, the joy of those who know that they are safe in Christ, are clearly represented to us. We are even shown the offices and purpose of the Holy Scriptures, as guides into the way of truth, and are pointed to those internal evils which, blinding the souls of some persons to the most certain evidence of truths invisible, remove them from all light into a region of such black and impenetrable darkness than even miracles are powerless to convince them, and they will not “ be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”.
I say that views and prospects open before us, in reading this parable, upon all these topics, and upon other topics which branch out from these. Things of great importance are handled in it. Truths of the most personal and private interest are expounded in its simple but most vivid sayings. It is filled with reasons and arguments sufficient for the conviction of the most thoughtless persons, and proving to us how needful it is that we should diligently use the opportunities which we now have, and the light which we now possess, if we would escape a never-ending sorrow, and be blessed with unutterable joys when life ceases. There are doctrines in every verse. There are truths in every line. There is scarcely a word in the parable but suggests a practice or a duty. But where the field is so wide, there is a danger of being lost in the width of our subject, and the manifold variety of the scenes which are depicted for us. And, therefore, I would purpose that we should take our stand, as it were, in the centre of the parable, and listen to the lessons which the great Abraham can teach us when he speaks across the gulf of Hades to that lost son, who even then was scorched by the approaching flames of hell.
To appreciate the father's answer, we must first realize the son's circumstances, and understand the exact nature of his petition. The rich man had made what, considering his former circumstances, we may call a moderate and modest request. Being, as to his soul, in hell,—that is, in Hades, in the place where souls go at death, but not in the place of torment,--and being in that portion of the mysterious region which is appropriated to lost souls, and which is opposite to that flowery garden in which the saintly souls rest, and having a foretaste and dreadful foreboding of those endless and intolerable woes which will come afterwards; not being yet cast into that “lake of fire" of which we elsewhere read, or being tossed upon the waves of that unfathomed furnace in which the lost will burn and blaze for ever, but being only scorched with a moderate and tolerable flame, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus with one drop of water,—with as much water as could be carried on the tip of a finger, —to cool his tongue. And he added the reason, “for I am tormented in this flame." Now this, we must admit, was a very moderate petition. Considering that he was half on fire, a drop of water, by way of putting out the fire, was not a large demand. It was but little to ask for, whoever the petitioner might be. Had he been some poor beggar, accustomed to entreat for farthings and other small coin, we should still have said that he was modest in his petition. But when we consider who the beggar was, and remember that he was once clothed in purple, and that but lately he was faring sumptuously every day, refreshing his tongue with dainty liquids, feeding his body upon rare and luxurious dishes, reclining on sumptuous couches, attended by a retinue of servants who vied with each other in executing his most capricious wishes, courted by innumerable and splendid friends; when all this is considered by us, and when we further remember that he made the most of all this, and indulged himself in every possible way, we are even astonished at the change which has passed upon him, and the extreme moderation and temperance of his request. “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water.” Why, the time was when he would scarce have touched water. Then his language would have been, “Send to the sea and command it to give up to me the choicest fish which swims throughout its wide waters. Send to the pastures and bid them yield for my table the best sheep which feeds upon
them. Provide for me the stalled ox and the fatted calf. Mount upon swift horses and scour the pathless deserts that I may eat the richest game. Ransack the air that I may delight my palate with the most rare and highly-flavoured birds. And let the vineyards provide me with the costliest and most precious wine.'. But a few days before, his language would have been of this character, and now he would be content, nay more, he would be thankful for one drop of water hanging from a finger tip, just to cool his tongue. We may well be surprised at his extraordinary moderation.
Such was the son's petition. And now, considering who it is of whom he asks this little boon, we can scarcely doubt for an instant but that he will get the trifle which he asks for. Abraham was a good man. Abraham was famous for his kindness. Abraham was even remarkable for hospitality to strangers whom he had never seen; so that we read on one occasion of his killing a calf for certain travellers who once called upon him, and entertaining them with most attentive and subservient care. then, he will grant this little favour to one who has a right to call him father, and whom he addresses with all tenderness as his son.
refuses. Abraham will not send Lazarus. Abraham would not. Abraham could not. It would not have been right to grant it. And it was not possible to grant it if it had been right. Justice interposed a barrier. The decrees of God were an insuperable obstacle. It was not proper, it was not right, it was not just to give this drop of water. And if it had been proper, and right, and just, it was impossible. Lazarus could not do it, for God had said that those whom death had severed must be for ever separate.
These are the words of Abraham, “ 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. 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.” That is, Son, remember this. You have had your goods, and you have squandered and exhausted them, and you must take the consequences. You have been a prodigal, and you have wasted your substance upon yourself. God gave you many goods, wealth, and power, and ability, and education, and civilization, and many other advantages ; and instead of employing them as He intended, making for yourself friends by your unselfish use of the unrighteous mammon, you exhausted all of it upon your own person and your own purposes. You were selfish, you neglected others, you sought your rest and happiness in earthly goods, you laid no treasure up in Heaven where moth and rust are not. You denied not self in anything, and you pampered self in everything. And therefore now, while Lazarus has all comfort,—the Comforter Himself bestowing all