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Love the Mark of God's Children.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Whitsunday to All Saints' Day

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 14-28.


Second part of Sermon XLVIII. for the First Sunday after Trinity.
(for the first part, on the Epistle..
He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God
Whom he hath not seen?I ST. JOHN iv. 20. 

...From this most soothing, gracious, and beautiful lesson, the picture of Divine love afforded us in the Epistle, we now pass to another lesson, the most awful and terrible in the whole of the Scriptures, and the more awful and terrible, because delivered to us by Him Who is Love itself.  It is the account which our Lord Himself gives us in the Gospel for to-day, lifting up the curtain from the unseen world, and disclosing to us a fearful glimpse into one of those dread realities which encompass this shadowy and transient scene of things.  And if the account of His unspeakable love, set so earnestly before us by the disciple of Divine love himself, cannot win us, oh, that fear itself, and the insight into these terrors, may drive us for refuge to Him?  It is the account of one who, in his short passage through this world, loved not “his brother whom he had seen.”

There was a certain rich man, says our Lord in St. Luke’s Gospel, which was clothed in purple and fine linen,—“purple” without, as rich men usually were, of fair and costly appearance; and “fine linen,” all softness and delicacy, within,—and fared sumptuously every day.  That is, he was taken up with the love of self, according to the desires of the natural man, in self-gratifications which harden the heart.  Nor does our Lord give us to hope anything better of that other rich man who said to himself, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” (St. Luke xii. 19.) Both alike were devoid of the love of their neighbour and of God, because they were thinking of themselves, and filled with the love of this present life: no self-denial, no mortification, no watchfulness and earnest prayer, such as religion requires of us all.  It was enough that both of them were living a life in which it was impossible to love God; that first and great law of the Old Testament and of the New.  The desires they were cherishing were incompatible with it.  “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”  “Whose hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"

But nothing is stated of the inward and spiritual condition of the two persons in this parable; their outward condition only, in the sight of men, is described; the state of their hearts is left to the all-seeing eye of God, and no judgment is expressed of it here below—it is shown only in the sequel that ensues.  No crime is alleged of the rich man, no prayers and patience are stated of the poor.

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.  He represented outwardly what we all are in our natural state: beggars dependent on God’s undeserved mercies, and laid helpless without the gate, and with our souls full of wounds.  Blessed is he who most knows himself to be so! And like the prodigal also in the parable, he was half-dying with hunger.  Such is the season of grace: that aching void of a famished body longs after God, and in its want becomes filled with His fulness.

Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.  Laid among unclean animals, and even they having more compassion on him than the household of the rich, he was even as one of the dogs under the table; but less favoured than they, unable to support himself; for he was helpless and sick; pining for want in the sight of abundance, for he was at the rich man’s gate; longing for crumbs, but having them not; yet not complaining nor importuning, but patient and trusting in God.  Such was he on this side of the door of death, at which he lay.

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.  Instead of the dogs he had angels to minister to him; instead of lying abject without the gate of a man, he was at the highest place at the table of God in His kingdom; instead of being despised, he was cherished and loved by the highest of saints in the bosom of blessedness.  O wonderful morning of first awaking after closing the eyes on a scene of want, and wretchedness, and pain here below! He had no one on earth to cam for him; none to relieve, none to pity him, to save him from death, or alleviate him in dying, or in death to close his eyes; but he laid himself asleep on the breast of God, and on that he awoke, and found where he was: safe in the bosom of Abraham, the harbour of repose, and beneath him the Everlasting Arms.  He awoke and found where he was, and where he was to be for ever.  O blessed dawn of everlasting light, when songs of Angels are first heard with their glad welcome, and the soul awakes from the sad dream of life to know what it is to be with God!

The rich man also died, and was buried.  It is added, he “was buried,” for his costliness below was not over till then; but of the pompous funeral of his dead body on earth he was himself now utterly regardless and unconscious; or if he was sensible of it at all, it was as an aggravation and mockery of his real and true condition.  He was buried: and in hell he lift up his eyes being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  In the outer darkness there was a gleam of sad light which but added to the gloom, for it disclosed to him the greatness of those joys which he had lost, and by the contrast increased his sorrows; but it was “afar off,” as intimating the vast distance and separation which now lay between them.  He sees and knows, though it be afar off, one whom he had often before, it may be, seen and known as he lay at his gate.  But oh, how great is now the difference! what tongue can speak, what heart can adequately conceive it!  It is the house of eternal blessedness, in the inner chamber of which he sees one whom he had known; but he is now himself without the gate, laid full of torments.

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 tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.  “He cried,” it was more than the “exceeding bitter cry” of Esau when he had found his birthright gone—sold for a mess of pottage, and no place for repentance.  It is not for change of place or condition, not for release, not for a cup of cold water only does he ask, but far less; that Lazarus “may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue.”  That tongue which had not prayed to God while time was given, now prays to Abraham, but in vain; that tongue which had ministered to luxury, now longs in vain for one drop of water.  His sin hath found him out.  That whereby he sinned now suffers.  Perhaps, also, it had been the tongue of evil-speaking, “set on fire of hell,” the effects of which he now feels.

But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.  What a weight of power and of woe in every word!  Son, he had been, therefore, a son of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the friend of God; from this high calling he had fallen.  Remember, oh! what a memory, what a serpent, what anguish must there be in such remembrance of the past! Thou in thy lifetime, that life of the flesh and the natural man; that life of the world, and esteemed in the eyes of the world, which thou hadst chosen to be thy life, instead of the life which is in God; thou receivedst—thou hast already had, thou didst receive and take for thine own thy good things, those which thou didst esteem “good,” “thy good things ;“ those were thy choice and thy portion when thou hadst the power to choose; thou hast received them, and with them thy good, thy life, thy choice, hath ended.  But, it may be said, had not Abraham himself these riches of which he thus speaks the good things of this world in abundance, gold and silver, exceeding many flocks and herds, household servants, and attendants?  It is evident, therefore, that it was not the mere possession of these that Abraham would lay to the rich man’s charge, but that in them he forgot God; he possessed them, and they possessed him; they took up his heart, he made them his good things, his life, his god; whereas Abraham, in the midst of riches, was ever as one who in possessing possessed not; being exceedingly poor in spirit; he felt no place on earth to be his own, confessing himself as a stranger and a pilgrim; he made God only his portion, saying, when childless and old, “Lord God, what wilt Thou give me?" (Gen. xv. 2.)  “Dwelling in tabernacles with the heirs with him of the same promise,” “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” (Heb. xi. 9, 10.)

Abraham poor in riches, and Lazarus rich in poverty; they are now together at the table of God.  “Thou in thy lifetime,” said Abraham, “receivedst thy good things,” and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.  The Comforter Himself hath healed his sores, bath wiped away his tears, hath filled him with good things.  With one the good hath gone, the evil remains; with the other the evil hath gone, the good remains.  Such is the difference at death with the worldly man and the Christian.  Nay, evil itself, even while it remained, was good to the Christian, for it was his Saviour’s portion, and brought him nearer to God.  And no prosperity in this life can be really good to a bad man.

And besides all this, says Abraham, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.  Their lot can now never be changed any more; while time lasted it might have been changed every day; more love to man might be practised every day; more love to God laid up and learnt; more humility of heart exercised.  But that opportunity has now gone by for ever; the time seems now as if it had been but for a moment, while looked back upon from the countless ages of eternity.  There is a great gulf fixed between: great, so vast the difference; a gulf, so deep and impassable; and fixed, as for ever unchangeable, for the barriers are in the deep foundations of eternity.

O blessed Saviour, these are Thine own words! we cannot explain or speak of them, for everything falls short, and all that we say seems but idle words compared with the dread reality.  Do Thou, by Thy Holy Spirit, write them on our hearts.  Teach us to know them in this our day, as Thou wouldst have us to understand and profit by the sad warning.

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.  His torment is increased by thinking of others; natural affection seems still to remain; nay, it might almost seem brotherly affection, a desire for their spiritual everlasting welfare; he would become, as it were, a preacher of the Gospel, and send an Apostolic message unto them; but these desires are fruitless and unavailing, and now only tend to increase the bitterness of regret and sorrow.  Dear Christians, how much reason have we all to fear that good desires, if not acted upon and carried out when opportunity is given, may come back to us when it is too late, knocking at the door of the heart with everlasting sorrow!  Have we not all of us some relative whose spiritual good we may promote now, by our prayers at all events, if in no other way?  O opportunities of great price; seeds that are scattered about, as it were, on the winds, which may on all sides be found by us, wherever we look; seeds of imperishable good or evil, which may be taken home by us, and cherished, and made to bear fruit, and be an endless comfort to us when we have left the body.

Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.  Moses and the Prophets! they both teach the love of God and the love of our neighbour; they both look forward to the everlasting life which is in God, sufficiently for an obedient heart to understand.  Here we have our Lord’s own declaration for this, expressed by the mouth of Abraham himself.

And he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.  And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.  Here we cannot but remember that there was once a man named Lazarus raised to life from the grave; and the Jews, the children of Abraham, went in great numbers from Jerusalem to Bethany, in order to see him; but the chief priests, in consequence, held a council to slay Lazarus, the witness from the dead, and with him to slay his Deliverer, the Prince of Life.  They were not rendered the better, but the worse for that miracle.  They repented not, they were “not persuaded” by one that rose from the dead; but more confirmed in unbelief and wickedness.

Thus was it with these Pharisees, to whom this awful parable was delivered.  They brought to its height and fulness this unlovely temper of the rich man; they saw and hated their Brother of the seed of Abraham Whom they had seen, and knew not that in seeing and hating Him they saw and hated their God.

And now again, in conclusion, let us consider the loving precepts of the Epistle, and the sad narrative of this day’s Gospel together: how do light and darkness combine in one picture, each to heighten the other!  Both speak the same doctrine.  What a wonderful mystery of probation surrounds us all!  How searching, how inscrutable!  We shall never know with what exquisite wisdom our trial has been adapted and constituted until it is past.  We go on with very little sense or knowledge of the ultimate consequence of things, till all of a sudden in its fulness and reality it stands before us; so it is with us, one by one, one after another.  So was it with the rich man in the parable; so was it with poor Lazarus whom he despised; so was it with all those Jews who saw Christ and loved Him not.  How little did they know or think of what they were about, until death stripped the veil from their eyes,—that the “outcast of the people,” “the despised and rejected of men,” He that had “not where to lay His head,” was their God, and that He their God was Love Moses and the Prophets testified of Him; but as Abraham said, they heard not Moses and the prophets; and He Himself rose from the dead, but as Abraham said, “neither” were they “persuaded though one rose from the dead.”

Many expressions of Holy Scripture imply, that we, in this our short time of trial below, are enveloped in the same kind of cloud—a cloud which conceals from our view the very near Presence of God.  For the Jews, after their trial was over, could scarcely have been more amazed and surprised to find that the poor Galilean, the carpenter’s son of Nazareth, was the Everlasting Son of the Father; that He, their Brother Whom they had seen, was their God also Whom they had not seen; they could scarcely have been more astonished than those accepted persons will be in the Great Day of Terror to whom He shall say, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

O awful season of short-lived time! “Clouds and darkness are round about” us; for “clouds and darkness are round about” our God, and our God is with us; though, alas we know it not, or but feebly at best understand; but all we know in this our darkness is, that he that now walketh in love walketh in light, and by so doing shall come to that everlasting light in which God is, Whose Name is Love.