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THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores.—Luke xvi. 19, 20.
I INTEND, by God’s assistance, to go over this parable, than which I think there is none in the whole gospel, which is more apt to affect men, or which is more artificially contrived, and in the circumstances whereof a greater decorum is observed.
It is a great question among interpreters, whether this narration concerning the rich man and Lazarus be a parable, or a history, or a mixture of both. That it is not a history, the resemblance between it and others of our Saviour’s parables, will easily convince any man that is not contentious; besides that, in some ancient copies, it is ushered in with this preface, “And he spake a parable to his disciples: A certain rich man,” &c.
But yet, as some of the ancients have not improbably conjectured, it seems to be such a kind of parable, as had something of a real foundation; as, namely, there was such a poor man as Lazarus is here described, and of that name among the Jews: for in a mere parable it is altogether unusual to name persons, nor is this done in any other of our Saviour’s parables.
But whether this be so or not is not worth the 190disputing, because it alters not the case as to our Saviour’s purpose, and the instructions which we may learn from it.
In the handling of this parable, I shall explain it as I go along, and draw two sorts of instructions or observations from it.
The first sort of observations shall be from the circumstances which serve for the decorum of the parable: and these I will not warrant to be all intended by our Saviour; but only to be true in themselves, and useful, and to have a probable rise from some circumstances of the parable, and therefore I shall speak but very briefly to them.
The second sort of observations shall be such as are grounded upon the main scope and intent of the parable; and these I shall insist more largely upon. I begin,
First, With those observations and instructions which I shall gather up from the circumstances which serve for the decorum of the parable; and I shall take them in order as they lie in the parable.
(Ver. 19.) “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.” Some think that our Saviour, in this description, reflected upon Herod, because he describes this rich man to be “clothed in purple.” But this conjecture is without reason; for, besides that it was not our Saviour’s custom in his preaching to give secret girds to the magistrate; it is certain that it was long after our Saviour’s time that purple was appropriated to kings: it was then, and a great while after, the wear of rich and powerful men, and of the favourites and great men of the court, who are frequently, in ancient histories, called the purpurati, those that wore purple.191
That which I observe from hence is, that the rich man is not here censured for enjoying what he had, for wearing rich apparel, and keeping a great table. This of itself, if it be according to a man’s estate and quality, and without intemperance, is so far from being a fault, that it is a commendable virtue. But here was his fault, that he made all to serve his own sensuality and luxury, without any consideration of the wants and necessities of others: whereas one of the great uses of the plentiful tables of rich men is from the superfluity of them to feed the poor and the hungry.
(Ver. 20.) “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus;” as if our Saviour had said, for instance, poor Lazarus whom ye all knew. And here I cannot but take notice of the decorum which our Saviour uses. He would not name any rich man, because that was invidious and apt to provoke. He endeavours to make all men sensible of their duty; but he would provoke none of them by any peevish reflection; for nothing is more improper than to provoke those whom we intend to persuade. While a man’s reason is calm and undisturbed, it is capable of truth fairly propounded; but if we once stir up men’s passions, it is like muddying of the waters, they can discern nothing clearly afterwards. But to proceed in the parable.
“There was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at the rich man’s gate, full of sores, and was desirous to be fed with the crumbs which fell from his table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Here are three great aggravations of the rich man’s uncharitableness:
1st, That here was an object presented itself to him.192
2dly, Such an object as would move any one’s pity, a man reduced to extreme misery and necessity.
3dly, A little relief would have contented him.
1st, Here was an object presented itself to him, Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gate; so that so often as he went out of his own house and came in, he could not but take notice of him. Good men that are charitably disposed will inquire out objects for their charity, and not always stay till they thrust themselves upon them; but he is a very bad man, who, when an object of great pity and charity is presented, is so far from relenting towards him, that he stops his ear to his cry. and turns away his face from him. He is an uncharitable man who, being rich, and hearing of the miseries of others, does not take them into consideration: but what we see with our eyes is much more apt to affect us. So that this was an argument of a very cruel disposition in the rich man, that having so many occasions of seeing Lazarus, he should never be moved to commiserate him.
2dly, Here was such an object presented to him as would move any one’s pity, a man reduced to extreme misery and necessity. Here was no common object of charity; a man, not only in extreme want, but in great pain and anguish, and so helpless, that he was unable to keep off the dogs from being troublesome to him: and yet this did not move him.
3dly, A very little relief would have contented this poor man, and have been a great kindness to him; that which the rich man might have spared without the least prejudice to himself. He would have been glad to have been “fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table;” and yet the 193parable intimates, that the rich man was so hard hearted as not to afford him these.
(Ver. 22.) “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” Here was a great and sudden change! He who, when he was alive, was neglected by men, and contumeliously exposed like a dead carcass to the dogs, when he dies is attended on by the angels, and by them safely conveyed into a state of unspeakable happiness. He who lay at the rich man’s gate, and could find no entrance there, is admitted into heaven. “The beggar died, and was carried into Abraham’s bosom.”
It is very observable that our Saviour in this parable represents men as passing immediately out of this life into a state of happiness or torment. And as in no other place of Scripture, so neither in this, where it had been so proper, does our Saviour give the least intimation of the state of purgatory, which the church of Rome hath devised, and makes so much profit and advantage of; which because it is so visible and apparent, we may, without uncharitableness, suppose to be the reason why they keep such a stir about it.
“And was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” It was an ancient tradition among the Jews, that the angels did attend good men at their death, and carry their souls into paradise, which is here called “Abraham’s bosom.” And this was a proper place for Lazarus, who had been neglected by the rich man; to be conveyed into “Abraham’s bosom,” who was of a quite contrary temper, and loved to entertain and relieve strangers.
And paradise is fitly called “Abraham’s bosom,” because the Jews had so great a veneration for 194Abraham, and that deservedly for his eminent faith and obedience, that they gave him the first place among the blessed. Hence is the expression (Matt, viii. 11.) of “sitting down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God.” Now this expression of being in “Abraham’s bosom,” is an allusion to the custom of feasts among the Jews, where the most esteemed and beloved guest sat next him that was chief at the feast, and leaned on his boson). Hence, St. John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved, because, when he sat at meat, he leaned on his bosom, (John xiii. 23.) Hence, like wise, is the expression of our Saviour’s being “in the bosom of his Father,” to signify his dearness to him, (John i. 18.) “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father he hath declared him.”
I proceed. “The rich man also died, and was buried. “The rich man also died:” this is very elegant and emphatical, insinuating to us what the Scripture so often takes notice of, that riches, for all men’s confidence in them, will not deliver from death. This rich man, indeed, was out of danger of being starved and famished, as poor Lazarus was: but death had other ways to come at him. It is probable enough that he might be surfeited by “faring sumptuously every day.” “The rich man also died.”
“And was buried.” And here again we may observe the strict decorum which our Saviour uses in this parable. It is not said of Lazarus that he was buried, but only that “he died;” it is probable that he was flung out of the way into some pit or other; but of the rich man it is said he was buried. And this is all the advantage which a rich man hath by a great estate after he is dead, to have a pompous 195and solemn funeral, which yet signifies nothing to him after death, because he is insensible of it.
(Ver. 23.) “And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” As corporal acts are attributed to God in Scripture, so likewise to separated souls.
“In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments;” intimating to us, that this sensual and voluptuous man had stupidly passed away his life, without any serious thoughts and consideration; but now at last he was awakened, when it was too late, and began to consider. “In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.”
O the stupidity of sinners! who run on blindly in their course, and never open their eyes till they are fallen into the pit; who cannot be brought to consider, till consideration will do them no good; till it serve to no other purpose but to enrage their consciences, and to multiply the stings of them!
Thus it was with this rich man; “he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Our Saviour represents him as seeing that which would then most probably come to his mind. Feeling his own misery, he began to consider the happy condition of the poor man whom he had so cruelly neglected. And, indeed, one great part of the torment of hell consists in those reflections which men shall make upon the happiness which they have wilfully lost and neglected, and the sins whereby they have plunged themselves into that miserable state.
(Ver. 24.) “And he cried, and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my 196tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” See how the scene is changed; now he is fain to beg relief of the beggar who had sued to him in vain!
“Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue.” Here is another very decent circumstance; the rich man is represented as not having the face to beg any great relief from Lazarus, towards whom he had been so hard-hearted. To “dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool his tongue,” had been a very great favour from Lazarus, to whom the rich man had denied even the “crumbs which fell from his table.”
“For I am tormented in this flame.” The Scripture loves to make use of sensible representations, to set forth to us the happiness and misery of the next life; partly by way of condescension to our understandings, and partly to work more powerfully upon our affections. For whilst we are in the body, and immersed in sense, we are most apt to be moved by such descriptions of things as are sensible; and therefore the torments of wicked men in hell, are usually in Scripture described to us, by one of the quickest and sharpest pains that human nature is ordinarily acquainted withal; namely, by the pain of burning; fire being the most active thing in nature, and therefore capable of causing the sharpest pains.
But we cannot from these and like expressions of Scripture certainly determine that this is the true and proper pain of hell: all that we can infer from these descriptions is this—that the sufferings of wicked men in the other world, shall be very terrible, and as great, and probably greater, than can possibly be described to us, by any thing that we are now acquainted withal: for who knows the 197power of God’s anger, and the utmost of what omni potent justice can do to sinners? For, as the glory of heaven, and the joys of God’s presence are now in conceivable; so likewise are the torments of hell, and the miseries of the damned. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered in the heart of man,” those dreadful things “which God prepares for them that hate him.” Who can imagine the utmost significancy of those phrases which the Scripture uses to set forth this to us, of God’s being “a consuming fire,” of being “tormented in flames,” of God’s wrath and jealousy smoking against sinners, and all the curses that are written in his book, falling upon them? Who can conceive the horror of those expressions, of “the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched;” of God’s “pouring out the vials of his wrath,” of being “delivered over to the tormentor,” of being “thrust into utter darkness,” of being “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone?” These forms of speech seem to be borrowed from those things which among men are most dreadful and affrighting: and to be calculated and accommodated to our capacities, and not so much intended to express to us the proper and real torments of hell, as to convey to us in a more sensible and affecting manner the sense of what the Scripture says in general, that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
(Ver. 25.) “But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” “Abraham said, Son, remember.” It is very observable, how our Saviour chooses to represent to us the discourse between Abraham and the rich man; though there 198was the greatest difference between them imaginable; the one was in heaven, and the other in hell, yet they treated one another civilly. Abraham is brought in giving the common terms of civility to this wretched wicked man, and calling him son; “Son, remember.” It was, indeed, a very severe thing which he said to him; he put him in mind of his former prosperity, and of his fault in his unmerciful usage of Lazarus; “Remember, son, that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus,” &c. But yet whilst he speaks such sharp things to him, he bates bad language. A man may say very severe things, where a just occasion requires it, but he must use no reviling; rem ipsam die, mitte male loqui, “say the thing, but use no bad language.” And this, as one says, is the true art of chiding, the proper style wherein we must use to reprove. If we do it with malice, and anger, and contempt, it is misbecoming, even though we despair of doing good; but if we hope for any good effect, we are like to miss of it this way, for, as the apostle says excellently, “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
Some think that Abraham gives the rich man the title of son ironically, and by way of jeer; but without all reason. For surely there is not so much bad nature in heaven, as to scoff at those who are in misery. Besides that, we find our Saviour observing this decorum of good language in other of his parables; as, particularly, in that of the king who invited guests to the marriage of his son. (Matt. xxii. 11.) When the king saw there the man that came without his wedding garment, though he passed a very severe sentence upon him, yet he gives him the common terms of civility; “Friend, how earnest thou hither?”199
This should teach us Christians, how we ought to demean ourselves towards those who are at the greatest distance from us, and how we ought to be have ourselves towards one another in the greatest differences of religion. None sure can be at greater distance than Abraham in paradise, and the rich man in hell; and jet our Saviour would not represent them as at terms of defiance with one another. One might have expected that Abraham should have reviled this poor wretch, and disdained to have spoken to him: but this is not the temper of heaven, nor ought it to be of good men upon earth, even to wards the worst of men.
How does this condemn our rudeness and impatience with one another, in our religious differences! we think no terms bad enough to use towards one another: and yet one of the most famous disputes that we find mentioned in Scripture, and that between the most opposite parties that can be imagined, was managed after another fashion; I mean that recorded by St. Jude, between Michael the archangel and the devil: (ver. 9.) “Yet Michael the archangel, when, contending with the devil, he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring a railing accusation;” he durst not allow himself this, no, not in the heat of dispute, when persons are most apt to fly out into passion, because it was in decent, and would have been displeasing to God; this I believe is the true reason why it is said, “he durst not bring a railing accusation.” And yet I may add another, which is not improper for our consideration, I am sure it hath a good moral, the devil would have been too hard for him at railing, be was better skilled at that weapon, and more expert at that kind of dispute.200
Which consideration may be a good argument to us against reviling any man. If we revile the good, we are unjust, because they deserve it not; if we revile the bad, we are unwise, because we shall get nothing by it. I could almost envy the character which was given of one of the Romans; Nescivit quid esset male dicere; “He knew not what it was to give bad language.”
I proceed. “Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things.” “Thy good things,” those which thou didst value and esteem so highly, and didst place thy chief happiness in, as if there had been no other good to. be sought after. “Thy good things,” and indeed so he used them, as if he had been the sole lord and proprietor of them, and they had not been committed to him, as a steward, to be dispensed for his master’s use, for the clothing of the naked, and the feeding of the hungry, and the relieving of those in distress.
(Ver. 27, 28.) “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, 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.” Here the rich man, though in hell, is represented as retaining some tenderness for his relations, as solicitous lest they should be involved in the same misery with himself. The last piece of that which commonly remains in men is natural affection, which is not so much a virtue, as a natural principle, and is common to many brute beasts. When a man puts off this, we may give him up for lost to all manner of goodness. To be without natural affection, is the worst character that can be given of a man. Our Saviour represents this rich man in hell, as not so totally degenerate as to be quite destitute of this.201
I think some attribute this motion of the rich man concerning his brethren to another cause; as if he had desired it, not out of kindness to them, but out of regard to himself; as being afraid, that if his brethren, who probably were corrupted by his example, had perished by that means, it would have been an aggravation of his torments. But this conjecture is too subtile, and without any good ground; for every man carries his burden of guilt with him out of this world, and it is not increased by any consequence of our actions here. For the crime of a bad example is the same whether men follow it or not, because he that gives bad example to others, does what in him lies to draw them into sin; and if they do not follow it, that is no mitigation of his fault.
I have but one observation more, and that is from the mention of his brethren as his nearest relations, which is a great aggravation of the rich man’s uncharitableness, because he is represented as having no children to take care for, and yet he would not consider the poor.
And thus I have, as briefly as I could, endeavoured to explain this parable, and have made such observations from the circumstances of it, as may be useful for our instruction: but as I premised at first, I will not warrant all these observations to be certainly intended by our Saviour; I know very well that every circumstance of a parable is not to be pressed too far, the moral accommodation does chiefly belong to the main scope of it, and many circumstances are only brought in to fill up the parable, and to make handsomer way for that which is most material, and principally intended: but so long as the observations are true and useful, and have a fair colour and occasion from the circumstances, it 202is well enough; to be sure there is no harm done. I proceed to the second sort of observations; namely, such as are drawn from the main scope and intent of the parable, which I promised to speak more largely to; and they are six, which I shall handle in order.
First, I observe that uncharitableness and unmercifulness to the poor, is a great and damning sin. We find no other fault imputed to the rich man but this, that he took no care out of his superfluity and abundance to relieve this poor man that lay at his gate. He is not charged for want of justice, but of charity; not for having got a great estate by fraud or oppression, but that, in the midst of his abundance, he had no consideration and pity for those that were in want.
I shall endeavour to make out this observation by the parts of it.
1st, That unmercifulness and uncharitableness to the poor is a great sin.
2dly, Such a sin, as, alone and without any other guilt, is sufficient to ruin a man for ever. I shall speak to these severally.
1st, That unmercifulness and uncharitableness to the poor is a very great sin. It contains in its very nature two black crimes, inhumanity and impiety.
1. Inhumanity; it is an argument of a cruel and savage disposition not to pity those that are in want and misery. And he doth not truly pity the miseries of others, that doth not relieve them when he hath ability and opportunity in his hands. Tenderness and compassion for the sufferings of others, is a virtue so proper to our nature, that it is therefore called humanity, as if it were essential to human nature, and as if, without this, we did not deserve the 203name of men. To see men like ourselves, u bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh,” labouring under want and necessity, and yet not to be moved to commiserate him, this is a sign that we have put off our own nature, otherwise we should pity the sufferings of it in others. For whenever we behold a man like ourselves, groaning under want, and pressed with necessity, and do not relent towards him, and are not ready to relieve him, we are hard-hearted to our own nature, and do, in some sense, what the apostle says “no man ever did, (that is, none retaining the temper and affections of a man) hate his own flesh.”
This the Scripture speaks of as a most barbarous sort of inhumanity, and calls it murder, (1 John iii. 15.) “Whoso hateth his brother, is a murderer;” and not to relieve our brother in want, is to hate him; for this is the instance which the apostle gives at the 17th verse, “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother in want, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him;” whoso doth not consider the poor, is a manslayer and a murderer, he is cruel to his own nature, nay, were he sufficiently sensible of the condition of human nature, he is cruel to himself.
Seest thou a poor man in great misery and want, there is nothing hath befallen him but what is common to man, what might have been thy lot and portion as well as his, and what may happen to thee or thine another time. Make it, therefore, thine own case; (for so the providence of God may make it one time or other, and thou provokest him to make it so speedily, by thy unmerciful disposition toward the poor,) I say, make it thine own case; if thou were in the poor man’s condition, and he in thine, consult 204thine own bowels, and tell me how thou wouldst wish him to be affected toward thee. Wouldst thou be willing that he should slight and repulse thee, and shut up his bowels of compassion from thee? If not, then do not thou deal so with him; consider that it may be thine own case; therefore, do not thou give the world any bad example in this kind, do not teach men to be unmerciful, lest they learn of thee, and thou find the ill effects of it, when it comes to be thine own condition. This is the first aggravation of this sin, the inhumanity of it. But,
2. Besides the inhumanity of this sin, it is like wise a great impiety toward God. Unmercifulness to the poor hath this fourfold impiety in it; it is a contempt of God; an usurpation upon his right; a slighting of his providence; and a plain demonstration that we do not love God, and that all our pretences to religion are hypocritical and insincere.
1. It is a contempt of God, and a reproaching of him; so Solomon tells us, (Prov. xiv. 31.) “He that oppresseth the poor,” (not only he that dealeth unjustly with a poor man, but he that is uncharitable towards him, as appears by the opposition, “but he that honoureth him, hath mercy on the poor.” Here oppression of the poor is opposed to want of charity towards him;) “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker.” How is that? He despiseth God, who made him after his own image and likeness; for the poor man bears the image of God as well as the rich, so that thou canst not oppress or neglect him, without some reflection upon God, whose image he bears.
2. The uncharitable man is an usurper upon God’s right. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof,” and “he hath given it to the children of 205men;” not absolutely to dispose of as they please, but in trust, and with certain reservations, so as to be accountable to him for the disposal of it. In respect of other men, we are, indeed, true proprietors of our estates: but in respect of God, we are but stewards; and he will call us to an account how we have laid them out. So much as we need is ours; but beyond what will support us, and be a convenient provision for our family, in the rank wherein God hath placed us, all that is given to us, that we may give it to others. And if God hath been liberal to us in the blessings of this life, it is on purpose to give us an opportunity, and to engage us to be so to others that stand in need of our charity; and we are false to our trust, if we keep those things to ourselves, which we receive from God for this very end, that we might distribute them to others, according to the proportion of our ability and their necessity. This is to hide our Lord’s talent in a napkin, and that which thou storest up in this case is unjustly detained by thee; for God intended it should have been for bread for the hungry, and for clothes for the naked, for the relief and support of those who were ready to perish.
3. The uncharitable man is impious, in slighting of God’s providence. He does not consider that riches and poverty are of the Lord, that he can soon change our condition, and that it is an easy thing with him to make a rich man poor. We do not sufficiently reverence the Providence which rules the world, if, when God hath blessed us with plenty and abundance, we have no pity and regard for those that are in need. God can soon turn the wheel, and lay thee as low as the poor man whom thou dost neglect. He can “cast down the mighty 206from their seat, and exalt the humble and meek; fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich empty away.”
God’s providence could easily have disposed of things otherwise, to have secured every man from want: but he hath on purpose ordered this variety of conditions, high and low, rich and poor, not that some men might have an advantage to insult over and despise others, but that there might be an opportunity for the exercise of several virtues; that the poor might have an opportunity to exercise their dependence upon God, and their patience and sub mission to his will; and that the rich might shew their temperance, and moderation, and charity.
4. Unmercifulness to the poor is a plain demonstration that we do not love God, and that all our other pretences to religion are hypocritical and insincere. St. James tells us, that “pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and the widow.” (James i. 27.) That “the wisdom which is from above is full of mercy and good fruits,” (chap. iii. 17.) St. John represents this uncharitable disposition as utterly inconsistent with the true love of God: (1 John iii. 17.) “But whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” In vain does such a man pretend to love God; nay, (chap. iv. ver. 20.) he tells us, that it is impossible such a man should love God. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” This deserves to be seriously considered by those who make a great show of devotion, and are at great 207pains in prayer, and fasting, and reading, and hearing the word of God, and in all other frugal exercises of religion, which stand them in no money; lest all their labour be lost for the want of this one necessary and essential part; lest, with the young man in the gospel, after they have kept all other commandments, they be rejected by Christ for lack of this one thing. I have done with the first part of the observation, that unmercifulness is a very great sin. I proceed to the
2d, That it is such a sin, as alone, and without any other guilt, is sufficient to ruin a man for ever. The parable lays the rich man’s condemnation upon this, it was the guilt of this sin that tormented him when he was in hell. The Scripture is full of severe threatenings against this sin. (Prov. xxi. 13.) “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” God will have no regard or pity for the man that regarded] not the poor. That is a terrible text, (James ii. 13.) “He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy.”
Our Saviour hath two parables to represent to us the danger of this sin; this, here in the text, and that in Luke xii. concerning the covetous man that enlarged his barns, and was still laying up, but laid nothing out upon the poor: upon which our Saviour makes this observation, which is the moral of the parable: (ver. 21.) “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God;” so shall he be, such an issue of his folly may every one expect, who layeth up treasure for himself, but does not lay up riches with God. How is that? The Scripture tells us, by works of mercy and charity; this our Saviour calls “laying up for ourselves treasures 208In heaven,” (Matt. vi. 20.) And, (Luke xii. 33.) he calls giving of alms, “providing for ourselves bags that wax not old, a treasure in heaven that faileth not.”
There is no particular grace and virtue to which the promise of eternal life is so frequently made in Scripture, as to this of mercy and charity to the poor: (Matt. v. 7.) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy.” Which promise, as it does not exclude a reward in this world, so it seems principally to respect the mercy of God at the great day: (Luke xiv. 12-14.) “When thou makest a feast, invite not the rich, for they will recompense thee again; but invite the poor, and the maimed, and the lame, and the blind, for they cannot recompense thee; but thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke xvi. 9.) “Make, therefore, to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when ye shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (1 Tim. vi. 17-19.) “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation,” as the word θεμέλιος is sometimes used, “a good treasure against the time which is to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.”
But the most considerable text of all other to this purpose is, in Matt. xxv. where our Saviour gives us a description of the judgment of the great day: and if that be a true and proper representation of the process of that day, then the grand inquiry will be, what works of charity have been done or neglected by us, and accordingly sentence shall be passed upon us.
The proper result from all this discourse is, to 209persuade men to this necessary duty. Our eternal happiness does not so much depend upon the exercise of any one single grace or virtue, as this of charity and mercy. Faith and repentance are more general and fundamental graces, and, as it were, the parents of all the rest: but of all single virtues, the Scripture lays the greatest weight upon this of charity; and if we do truly believe the precepts of the gospel, and the promises and threatenings of it, we cannot but have a principal regard to it.
I know how averse men generally are to this duty, which make them so full of excuses and objections against it.
1. They have children to provide for. This is not the case of all, and they whose case it is, may do well to consider, that it will not be amiss to leave a blessing as well as an inheritance to their children.
2. They tell us they intend to do something when they die. I doubt that very much; but granting their intention to be real, why should men choose to spoil a good work, and take away the grace and acceptableness of it, by the manner of doing? It shews a great backwardness to the work, when we defer it as long as we can. He that will not do good till he be forced by the last necessity, diu noluit, was long unwilling. It is one of the worst compliments we can put upon God, to give a thing to him when we can keep it no longer.
3. Others say, they may come to want themselves, and it is prudence to provide against that. To this I answer,
(1.) I believe that no man ever came the sooner to want for his charity. David hath an express observation to the contrary; (Psal. xxxvii. 25.) “I 210have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” And though he uses a general word, yet that, by the righteous here, he intended the merciful man, is evident from the next words, “he is ever merciful and lendeth.”
And besides David’s observation, we have express promises of God to secure us against this fear; (Psal. xl. 1, 2.) “Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble; the Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth.” (Prov. xxviii. 27.) “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack.”
(2.) Thou mayest come to want though thou give nothing; thou mayest lose that which thou hast spared in this kind as well as the rest; thou mayest lose all, and then thou art no better secured against want than if thou hadst been charitable. Besides that, when thou art brought to poverty, thou wilt want the comfort of having done this duty, and mayest justly look upon the neglect of this duty as one of the causes of thy poverty.
(3.) After all our care to provide for ourselves, we must trust the providence of God; and a man can in no case so safely commit himself to God as in well-doing. If the providence of God (as we all believe) be peculiarly concerned to bless one man more than another, I dare say the charitable man will not have the least portion.
(4.) There is a worse objection than all these, made by some grave men, who would be glad, under pretence of piety, to slip themselves out of this duty; and that is this, that it savours of popery to press good works with so much earnestness upon 211men, as if we could merit heaven by them; so that they dare not be charitable out of a pious fear, as they pretend, lest hereby they should entertain the doctrine of merit.
But, if the truth were known, I doubt covetousness lies at the bottom of this objection: however, it is fit it should be answered. And,
(1.) I say, that no man that is not prejudiced, either by his education or interest, can think that a creature can merit anything at the hand of God, to whom all that we can possibly do is antecedently due; much less that we can merit so great a reward as that of eternal happiness.
(2.) Though we deny the merit of good works, yet we firmly believe the necessity of them to eternal life. And that they are necessary to eternal life, is as good an argument to persuade a wise man to do them, as if they were meritorious; unless a man be so vain-glorious, as to think heaven not worth the having, unless he purchase it himself at a valuable consideration.
And now, let me earnestly entreat you, as you love God and your own souls, not to neglect this duty; lest you bring yourselves to the same miserable state with this rich man, to whom the least charity that could be asked was denied. Our Saviour hath purposely left this parable on record, to be a testimony and a witness to us; lest we, being guilty of the same sin, “should come into the same place of torment.”
And if any ask me, according to what proportion of his estate he ought to be charitable? I cannot deter mine that. Only, let no man neglect his duty, because I cannot (and it may be no one else can) tell him the exact proportion of his charity to his estate. There 212are some duties that are strictly determined, as those of justice; but God hath left our charity to be a free-will offering. In the proportion of this duty, every one must determine himself by prudence and the love of God. God hath left this duty undetermined, to try the largeness of our hearts towards him; only to encourage us to be abundant in this grace, he hath promised, that according to the proportion of our charity, shall be the degree of our happiness: (2 Cor. ix. 6.) “He that soweth plentifully, shall reap plentifully.” But let us be sure to do something in this kind; any part of our estate rather than none.
I will conclude with that excellent counsel of the son of Sirach, (Eccl. iv.) “My son, defraud not the poor, and make not the needy eyes to wait long; make not a hungry soul sorrowful, neither provoke a man in his distress; add not more trouble to a heart that is vexed, and defer not to give to him that is in need. Reject not the supplication of the afflicted, neither turn away thy face from a poor man; turn not thy eye away from the needy, and give him none occasion to curse thee. For if he curse thee in the bitterness of his soul, his prayer shall be heard of him that made him. Let it not grieve thee to bow down thine ear to the poor, and give him a friendly answer with meekness. Be as a father to the fatherless, and instead of a husband to their mother; so shalt thou be as the Son of the Most High, and he shall love thee more than thy mother doth.”213
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