ON THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR BEGGAR
Consider first, the words of our Lord in the gospel: – ‘There was a certain rich man,’ saith he, ‘who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores: desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table: and no one did give him: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom; 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, to cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him, Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime; and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot; nor from thence come hither,’ & c. See here, my soul, a great difference in life – between the rich man abounding in all that this world could give, and living in pleasures and delights, and the poor beggar wanting even the necessaries of life, and languishing under a multitude of sores and ulcers; but look, and observe how quickly the scene is changed, and what a great and eternal difference immediately succeeds after death, when the one is comforted with everlasting joy and happiness, and the other plunged into the extremity of endless misery, where he cannot be allowed even one drop of water to cool his tongue.
Consider 2ndly, what it was that brought the rich man to this place of eternal woe, since there is no mention in the gospel of any scandalous excesses that he was guilty of; no blasphemies, or perjuries, or profane swearing; no murders, no adulteries, or other impurities; no thefts, no rapines, or extortions; no slanders, or detractions, or lies: it is only said that he was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day – things in which, considering his state and condition, the world apprehends no sin. What, then, can we suppose to have been the occasion of his damnation? O! Christians, his sins were chiefly sins of omission of the service of God. He led an idle life; he loved his pleasures more than God; he made a god of his belly; he had no concern for the poor; so that he lived in a continual breach of the two great commandments of loving God with his whole heart, and of loving his neighbour as himself: and certainly there need no other sins to send any man to hell. See then, my soul, thou never flatter thyself with the imagination of thy being innocent, or promise thyself any security because thou art not guilty perhaps of the grosser sorts of sins, whilst thou leadest an idle, unprofitable life, following the ways and maxims of worldlings, and loving the honours, riches, or pleasures of the world better than God: for such a life as this can never bring any one to heaven – ’tis too remote from the narrow way that leads to life.
Consider 3rdly, in the case of the poor beggar, the happy fruits of patient suffering, of a true conformity in all things to the will of God, and of always keeping one’s self close to him, by recollection and divine love, in every place, occupation, or condition of life. For it was thus the poverty and the pains of Lazarus where sanctified and made the seeds of his eternal happiness. O that all such Christians as share in any part of his sufferings were so wise and happy in their comportment under them, as to reap the like fruits for eternity, from their temporal evils! But O, it is the want of a lively faith in the great truths of God delivered to us in the scripture; it is the want of a true sense of the goods and evils of eternity; it is the want of seriously thinking and considering that it is too often the bane both of the rich and of the poor: for otherwise, as our Lord here informs us, these scripture truths ought to influence us more powerfully, towards the total change of our lives, than even if any person were to come from the dead to preach unto us.
Conclude to labour and pray for heavenly wisdom to conduct thee in such a manner, in the midst of the goods and evils of this transitory life, that both the one and the other may be made subservient to thy eternal happiness.