The Rich and the Poor, Here and Hereafter
Luke 16:19-31
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:…

The case is that of one who had great wealth, and enjoyed it, and lived handsomely, but took no thought to the poor brother outside. He had his evil things in the same hour in which the brother in the grand house had his good things; and this went on, day after day, white the two men neared another life: but when that life began, there came a change. Now, it seems clear, from the way in which the case is put, that this change, which was in fact a revolution, and brought with it a precise reversal of the states of those two men, came in a line of predetermined events. It implies the working of a law, which may have been fulfilled in countless instances already, and is destined to act and rule so long as the lots of men are unequal in this life. If this be so, it ought to make those of us uneasy, who perceive, in comparing themselves with their neighbours, that they are having their good things now. It seems a just inference from this parable, which was undoubtedly intended as a lesson and a warning for us all, that Almighty God, the Righteous and Just, although He may for the present permit the poor to suffer, has made a law in the due execution whereof there may be expected a complete upset of conditions by and by, on our passage into another life. Many years ago, in the early winter, I found myself one evening at a rich man's table, with others bidden to the feast. We had our good things. Nothing was wanting to the completeness of our entertainment in which appeared, in their order, all delicious viands, with condiments and delicacies, and whatsoever is pleasant to the eyes and good for food. There shone the precious metals, and rare porcelains and crystal, while, amidst roses and other choice flowers appeared, in rich warm hues as of the ruby and the topaz, the fruit of the vines of distant lands. As one surveyed the cheerful company under the soft brilliancy of many lights, it was a pleasant scene; in their lifetime they were receiving their good things; and not as dissolute revellers, but after the way of the highly respectable, to whom all this came as to men and women to the manner born, and living, as became their station, the life of the rich and the free. In less than an hour after leaving that scene, I found myself descending, by dim and muddy steps, the basement of a miserable house in the same city, and entering a room some feet below the level of the sidewalk. What light there was in that forlorn apartment came from a dull tallow candle; the feeble ray fell on bare walls and a bare floor, and showed no furniture but an old bedstead, without clothes or bedding, or so much as a truss of straw. On the floor sat two children, thinly clad, crouching close to an old rust-eaten stove, in which a faint redness glimmered through the choked-up ashes, the very mockery of a fire. The little ones had no food; their mother, they said, was abroad to see if she could get them a bit of something to eat, while a neighbour had given her the candle by the aid of which I made out the pitiful scene. There was the other side of the parable; the old, old story: "and likewise Lazarus evil things." Under the winter's evening, the two rooms told their separate stories to the Lord; the "good things" there, the "evil things" here; just as it has been from the beginning. Alas I the heart dies down at such contrasts. Who could look on two such pictures within the same hour, and admit that things are as they ought to be in this world? And if, at such a moment, he remembers the words of the parable, it cannot but occur to him, as was just now said, that there must be a hidden law of adjustment, whose working will be revealed in due season. He must say to himself: It cannot be that these things are to last for ever; and moreover, it cannot be that he who is indifferent to them while they last can finally go unpunished. Indifference on these points is crime; and crime must bring retribution. We have, then, in the words of our Lord in the parable a very serious intimation; and, in common daily experience, an argument of great persuasive force urging us to heed it. It is one of the gravest of questions how we are to deal with the terrible problems thus raised; problems which could not be more urgent or more practical; which relate to both worlds at once; to the estates of men in this life, and to the estates of those same men in the life hereafter. We want light on a dark question; infidelity and anti-Christian social science fail us here; the latter amuses us with a jack-a-lantern, leading nowhere but into greater embarrassments; the former blows out what light remains, and by destroying society reduces all men everywhere to present terror and ultimate barbarism. Fortunately for the human race there are ideas as different from infidel or socialistic notions as light from darkness; ideas put forth by our blessed Lord, and kept afloat by the powerful agency of that religion which He founded and sustained. In these ideas, fully realized and widely applied, resides the only hope of relief. Let us recall them to our thoughts and see in what subtle and perhaps unsuspected way they help us all — the poor who are in misery here, and the rich who are in peril hereafter. First, then, Christianity never has attempted to eliminate the rich as a class. It is God's will that there shall always be the rich and the poor. But although the rich are permitted to be among us and to have a place in His Church, yet another thing is true. They are told that their riches are a real and a deadly peril; as if a man had in his house what might at any moment take fire or explode and destroy his life. And, more than this: the vast difference between them and the poor is one of those which seem to be unfair and unjust, in a human point of view. I mean that if you take man and man there is no reason a priori why the rich man should not be in the poor man's place and the poor man in the rich man's, and often no reason can be found in the characters of the men themselves. "Why is not that poor brother where I am and I in his place? It seems scarcely just to him now; it cannot go on for ever." If all the rich felt thus the sorrows of the poor would be at end, even for this life; and the rich would feel thus if they were penetrated with the spirit of the gospel. Even so much as there is (and blessed be God! there is much of this nobility of Christian love), has done and is doing a vast deal of good, and alleviating the misery and sorrow of the poor.

(Morgan Dix, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

WEB: "Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day.

The Retributive Power of Memory
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