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THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND
Sr. LUKE, Xvi. 19, 20, 21.
“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, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
In order to account for the severe application of this parable to the rich, it may be worth while, before we proceed to discuss it, to consider to whom it was addressed, and more particularly to whom it was applied. I need scarcely remind you, that the Pharisees and Sadducees, were the two principal sects among the Jews, at the period of our Saviour's preaching; but wherever these sects are mentioned in the gospel, it is with reference merely to the men of influence among them, who were chiefly persons of wealth as well as of power. For although the commonalty embraced the tenets both of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but of the former much more generally, still they were never honoured with that distinguishing title, of which
their superiors were so vain. They were simply styled the people, the multitude, and the like; and, therefore, when Christ is represented as directly addressing the Jewish sectaries, we are to consider him as pointing his observations to persons possessing that authority among the Jews, which wealth, joined to great strictness in observing the austerities of their religion, could not fail to confer.
These persons, then, who, almost universally, enjoyed “great possessions,” were, for the most part, uncharitable in their feelings, and dissolute in their lives. The doctrines by which they professed to be guided, allowed them a boundless latitude of indulgence, of which they did not fail fully to avail themselves. The observance of a ceremonial worship was considered by the presurptuous Pharisee as absolving him from every moral restraint; and the blood of animal sacrifices, he held to be a sufficient atonement for the blackest sins. The Sadducee, who believed not in a future state of rewards and punishments, lived according to the dictates of such a belief. In fact, the pleasures of the world were the only objects of his solicitude. “Whilst they promise their disciples liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption."
Such, then, was the general character of the rich among the Jews, at the time when our blessed Lord began to preach the doctrine of salvation, through a more effectual atonement than that which was offered in their temple sacrifices. It was to these rich but depraved men, that the parable of our text was applied. And, indeed, when we look at the moral depravity of the wealthy Jews generally, during the life of Christ, it will sufficiently account for many of those severe passages against the rich, to be found in the evangelical Scriptures.
If we have any faith in the perfection of Christ, it would be an evident impiety to contend, that he could possibly contradict his own precepts, or lead to an inference unfavourable to his justice, his dignity, or his truth. We might as well infer from some passages in his gospel, that the poor man shall be saved, merely because he is that the rich man shall be condemned, simply because he is rich: which would be, on the one hand, to reduce all sin to the casual possession of wealth, and, on the other, to confine all virtue to the accidental condition of poverty ;-a position manifestly absurd, and contradicted by the whole tenour of Scripture doctrine. The Apostle, however, understood his master better, when he bade his fellowlabourer Timothy—“charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy ; that they be rich in good works; ready to distribute; willing to communicate ; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” If the rich had really been incapable of practising these virtues, such a charge would undoubtedly have been trifling and impertinent. It must be evident, that neither riches nor poverty can form any moral distinction between good and bad men. Their characters are fixed in the divine judgment by their faith and works alone.
In discussing then the parable before us, we shall take it as applying, in these times, only to those rich and selfish sensualists, who, like the opulent among the early Jewish sects, consider merely their own pleasures, and neglect the common offices of benevolence towards their afflicted brethren. It is at once beautifully descriptive of perfect luxury and complete destitution. “There
“ was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.”
Now, in this brief, but expressive description, we have a most comprehensive picture of an opulent and luxurious man. He was clothed in purple, which was a colour assumed by none but the wealthy: the far-famed Tyrian dye being probably the colour here spoken of, and, as it was only to be procured at great cost, could be purchased by none but such as were extremely rich. He, therefore, was clothed in purple, the badge of his opulence. It was the regal colour, worn by the Persian kings, and assumed also by the Roman
nobles. He was clothed too “in fine linen”_here was another distinction, and “he fared sumptuously every day."
In this emphatic summary of the rich man's enjoyments, the divine teacher presents to the mind materials for a picture of the greatest temporal grandeur, that in proportion as the picture was vivid, so might the moral be forcible. “And there was a certain beggar," he continues, “named Lazarus, which was laid at the rich man's gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from his table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."
Here, the immediate contrast of human bereavement with human fruition, is very strikingly displayed. The miserable Lazarus, reduced to the last extremity, his whole frame so macerated as to break out into tormenting ulcers, crawls to the gate of the wealthy sensualist, and there lays himself down in silent anguish, hoping to be fed only with the crumbs which fell from his table. He was left there, however, unpitied, unrelieved; or although fed, perhaps, with the refuse of the rich man's table, still probably looked upon by the pampered ministers of his pleasures with scorn and disgust. He was neither taken into the mansion of this stately reveller, nor sent by him to a place of security and comfort. No physician was called in to heal, by timely applications, those numerous wounds which were open upon his body,