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CONCERNING THE RICH MAN
HITHERTO we have heard, in the Gospels, various examples both of faith and of love. For their peculiar and perpetual scope is, to set before us continual representations of faith and love. Wherefore, I hope by this time you know full well, that no one can be accepted of God but he that is received on the grounds of faith and love. In the present Gospel, however, the Lord has set before us an example of faith and of ungodliness at the same time: that by looking at this representation of ungodliness, as opposite to that of faith and love, we may be rendered more willing to abhor the former, and cleave unto the latter.
We may here see the judgment of God, as displayed both towards the believing, and the unbelieving; a view both dreadful and consoling;--dreadful to the ungodly, but consoling to those that are anointed with faith. But however, that the subject may be the more easily received into our minds, the description both of that rich man and of the poor Lazarus, must be set before our eyes; and from that description, we must learn on the one hand the nature of unbelief, and on the other the nature of faith. We will divide, therefore, the Exposition of this Gospel into THREE PARTS.
PART FIRST. This rich man is not to be considered by us as to his external life, for he is covered with a sheep's clothing; and if you look at his life, he appears to be a man of great worthiness; though, in truth, he craftily conceals a wolf under the covering of a sheep. For he is not in the Gospel accused of adultery, of murder, of robbery, of violence, or as having even designed any such thing as may be condemned by the lowest rabble or by common sense. Because, he had an outside show of a very good life; such as that pharisee boasted of, who gloried in himself that he fasted twice in a week, and was not as other men. If he had fallen into any of those foul sins, the Gospel would certainly not have been silent about them; seeing that, it speaks of him in other respects so particularly, that it even reproves his purple raiment and sumptuous fare, although these are but certain mediate and external things, according to which God does not judge. Wherefore, we must conclude, that he carried outwardly a sort of decorous and holy conversation; and so much so, that he seemed both to himself and to others, to fulfil the law of Moses.
But we are the rather to look into his heart, and judge of his spirit. For the Gospel has the eyes of a lynx, penetrating into the secret recesses of the heart, and reproving those things which are approved by human nature. It beholds not the sheep's clothing only, but looks at the real fruits of the tree; and judges from them, whether the tree be good or evil; as the Lord teaches, Matt. xvii. Wherefore, if we judge of this rich man according to the fruits of faith, we shall find, that both the heart and the tree are corrupt by unbelief. For the Gospel declares this to be his sin, that he daily fed his body magnificently and sumptuously, and clothed himself luxuriously and splendidly: and these are things that reason never considers to be heinous sins. Justiciaries even approve such a way of living, and deem themselves worthy of it, as having merited it by their holiness of life. But they see not all the while, that they are, while wallowing in these things, in unbelief. This rich man, however, is not condemned because he thus indulged in this sumptuous fare and splendid raiment; (for many holy kings and queens were, in old time, adorned in royal apparel, as Solomon, Esther, David,
Daniel, and others ;) but because his heart was taken with, and went after those things, and his substance was spent upon them; and because he sought all his joy, pleasure, and comfort from these things; and, in fact, made them his idols. For Christ by this expression every day,” signifies, that he was seen continually wallowing in this sumptuous fare and purple and fine linen. Whence we may conclude, that he sought after such a manner of life studiously, and with a certain delight; and that he chose it without being compelled into it by force or accident, or by any official requirements; or, that he desired to adopt such a manner of life, that he might serve his neighbour; but merely, that he might enjoy himself, and indulge his appetites for his own gratification.
Here, therefore, is brought to light the hidden sin that lay lurking in the secret recesses of his heart : namely, unbelief! This was the tree that produced such fruit. For faith cannot in the least endure this luxury of raiment, and these incitements of the appetite by madedishes; and therefore, it most determinately despises riches, honour, pleasure, and power; and, in a word, all those things which are out of God. It seeks nothing, it contrives for nothing, it follows after nothing, but God only; whom it considers to be the chief good. It is quite indifferent about all food, whether it be the most delicious or the most plain. It esteems the finest linen, and the coarsest cloth, both alike. And if it ever happens, that those who fear God are clothed in rich and costly garments, and are raised to great power and honour, yet, they set no value upon those things, but enter upon them by constraint and unwillingly; and they either come into such a station of life unexpectedly, or to a certainty do it with a view to others; as is exemplified in queen Esther, who said that she bore the royal crown against her will; but was yet, compelled to bear this ensign of royalty, because of the King. So David would rather have lived a private life among his people; but, in obedience to the will of God, and for the good of the people, he undertook the charge of governing the kingdom. In the same manner, all the saints are raised to high stations of power and honour by constraint, and remain all the while with their hearts unentangled by them : for in their stations of external power, they consult only the benefit of their neighbour : as it is written, Psalm xc. “ If riches increase, set not your heart upon them!”
But, where a man is destitute of faith, his heart goes after these vanities of the world; they fill his thoughts, and he continues to seek them, and never rests till he has got them ; and as soon as ever he has gained his heart's desire, he begins to feed himself like a hog, and wallows in this mire; he crams his belly, and places all his happiness therein; he is quite unconcerned how it is between God and his heart, and never dreams of considering what hope and expectation he has from him, for his belly is his only god. But when he does not get those things which he wants, then he begins to think that all is not right. Thus you see, this rich man does not perceive these abominable fruits of unbelief, he casts a covering over all, and so blinds his own eyes by his pharisaical works and life, that he at last becomes quite hardened and callous, and his ears are shut against all doctrine, all admonition, all threatenings, and finally, against all promises. Behold, this is that secret sin which is reproved and condemned by the Gospel.
And now, there follows another sin. Love towards his neighbour is utterly forgotten by him. This rich man utterly despises the poor needy Lazarus that lies at his gate. And, although he thought it beneath him to help such an one with his own hands, yet, he ought to have remembered him, and to have enjoined his servants to take him in, and take care of him. But he does none of these things; and that, because he understood nothing of God, and never had one true taste of his goodness. for he that has really felt the goodness of God, that man will be touched with the calamity of his neighbour. But, if he be in a state of hatred against God, so will he be disgusted with his neighbour also. For faith is of that nature, that all its expectation of good is from God; in him only it places all its hopes. By this faith, the man now knows God :-how good and merciful he is : by which knowledge, by-and-by his heart grows soft, and is so touched with a feeling of mercy, that he is ready to impart that unto all which he feels he has received of God. Therefore, he breaks forth into love, and serves his neighbour with all his heart, wholly devoting his body, his life, his wealth, his honour, his soul, and his spirit to his neighbour's benefit; and making him partaker of all that he has, just as God has dealt with him. Wherefore, he does not turn his eyes upon them that are well to do, upon the high in station, upon the powerful, the rich, the noble, the holy among men, who do not want his help; but rather, upon the sick, the fainting, the poor, the despised, and those that are labouring under the plague of sin ; whom it is in his power to help, by exercising his softened heart in rendering them his assistance, and by shewing himself such toward them, as God has shewn himself towards him by shedding abroad upon him all his benefits.
On the contrary, the nature of unbelief is this. It altogether distrusts God. By which distrust, the heart is blinded and rendered so insensible, that it cannot apprehend how bountiful and merciful God is; as it is written in the 13th Psalm; “ they know not God.” Afterwards, by this blindness, the heart grows so hard, that such a man remains with a heart as hard as horn, and without any touch of mercy whatever : he becomes utterly a hater of mankind, and devoid of natural and human feeling; and more inclined to do his neighbour a hurt, than so to help him as to please him. For as he is insensible to the goodness of God, so he can feel no pleasure in doing good to his neighbour. And then the consequence is, that he does not direct his eyes to the sick, the needy, and to poor miserable creatures that are exposed to contempt, to whom he might be, and ought to be, serviceable and useful; but lifts up his eyes on high, and seeks after that which is exalted, rich, and powerful; from whence there may fall to him some advantage, profit, pleasure, or honour.