CHAPTER 3 - THE LIFE CHOICE - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson


"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."
THIS second parable was the Lord's reply to those who scoffed at His words, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The steward of the first parable is a "fat fool" who mends his ways; this rich man is a "Nabal" who dies in his folly. In answer to the ridicule of those who claimed to serve both worlds, the Lord here brings before us the case of two men who made choice between them. The rich man, moreover, "fully received his good things"; nothing failed him of all that he had bar-gained for. And Lazarus was left destitute and desolate, with no provision but the refuse from the rich man's table, no bed but the roadway by the rich man's gate, no comforters but the dogs that licked his sores; for he was not only a beggar, but loathsomely diseased.
It is "a study in black and white," with no colour-shading in it, and therefore with no exact counterpart in real life. For wealth will not buy health, or peace of mind either. And without a good digestion and "a mind at leisure from itself, no amount of gold will enable any one to enjoy life - to "make merry sumptuously every day." And so it has come to pass that princes have died broken-hearted, and millionaires have killed themselves. And in the case of Lazarus the "black and white" is still more pronounced. "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread," is an experience that some of us who have seen much of life in many phases of it will endorse. Nor can we forget the Lord's own promise to those who seek His kingdom first in their life on earth. But here mammon’s man is presented to us in the brightest possible light, and God’s man in the darkest possible shadow; and in view of their life-story we are bidden to make choice whom we will serve.
But to guide our choice the veil is lifted which shuts out the unseen world. “It came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died and was buried.” And now he is "tormented" and Lazarus is "comforted." This is not the award of the day of judgment; it is but the natural sequel to their life choice. There is an awful solemnity about the answer given to the rich man’s appeal—" Son, remember that thou in thy life time receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus evil things." The word used expresses the receipt in full, "the exhaustion of every claim." "Woe to the rich, but blessed are the poor," is the meaning which certain eminent theologians find in the story. But this only proves their ignorance of Christ and His teaching. There is neither merit in being poor nor woe in being rich. The poor man who chooses mammon may miss the "good things" he has bargained for, and die a pauper at the last. But his poverty will avail nothing to atone for the sin of his life choice; and his sin can have but one ending. And as for "them that are rich in this world," if they but learn "not to be high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy," they will in very truth "lay hold on the life which is life indeed," "laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come."
But did not our Lord tell the young man who had "great possessions" to strip himself of everything and to come and follow Him? Yes, and another who "besought Him" for leave to do this very thing, was bidden to return to his own house and there to show how great things God had done for him. And there was a Lazarus whom He loved, who was not a beggar, but a wealthy man; and instead of telling him to sell his house, the Lord became his guest there. He knows each heart and each life, and deals with each in infinite wisdom. To leave houses or lands for His sake, and the Gospel’s, is to gain a hundredfold in blessing even in this life. But the man who pulls down his barns in order to make a fetich of poverty is as great a fool, and may be as profane, as he who builds them up again and makes a fetich of wealth.
No generous mind will sympathise with pulpit diatribes against the godless rich. Poor creatures! their tenure of their "good things" is very brief and most uncertain: why should they not enjoy them while they may? As well might we grudge his special comforts to the condemned criminal awaiting execution. And, after all, the rich man’s case has much to be said for it. Draw the curtains of time so close around him as to shut out the light of etemity, and his lot is an enviable one. It is a fine thing to be well clothed, and to "make merry sumptuously every day." But, you say, his wealth is God’s, and he is misusing it. Yes, it is God’s, but it is not yours; and it is no business of yours how he spends it. He is a better citizen than the man who hides his sovereigns in a cupboard or under the floor. In spite of his selfishness the sumptuous rich man, in scattering his money, does good to somebody. But if the miser and his piled up gold were flung into the sea the community would be none the poorer. The godless rich man is indeed contemptible, but not quite so contemptible as the godless poor. Look at him there as he passes in his splendid carriage, or as he sits at his luxurious table, and answer the question honestly, Has he not something to show for his evil bargain? But what can be said for the diseased and hungry beggar lying at his gate? or, to take the present day pattern, see that miserable wretch cadging about the streets for a crust or a glass of beer, and picking up cigar ends from the gutter! The one has gained this world, at all events; and so long as he lives in this world he can hold up his head. The other has no less definitely chosen this world; but what a bargain he has made! In view of eternity, it is a question, which of them is most to be pitied; but there can be no question which of them is most to be despised. The godless pauper - the man who chooses this world and is tricked out of his bargain - is the most utterly pitiful creature upon earth.
At a gospel meeting in a village schoolhouse, years ago, I noticed a leather-faced old man who was listening with eyes and ears. He came back next morning to hear an address on prophetic truth, of which he took notes on a torn piece of packing paper, with the stump of a carpenter’s pencil. He told me he was a travelling knife-grinder, and that, straying into the meeting by chance the evening before, he had received Christ. A month afterwards a letter from him reached me, which, on being deciphered, testified that it was "grand to be a knife-grinder," for the children and villagers liked to watch him at his work, and he was able to tell them about Christ. I heard no more of him till the following winter, when a friend found him in a workhouse. "It was grand to be in a workhouse," he said, for he had such chances of "telling the others about Christ." And my last news of him was that he was dying in the infirmary; but full of joy, because the man in the next bed had been brought to Christ by his talking to him. Such is the blessedness of "God’s poor," "rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom." What a contrast!
"A certain rich man," mark; he is a mere millionaire, and his name is of no account. But "a certain beggar, named Lazarus." God knows His own, and their names are "written in heaven." But why Lazarus? His whole life-story is in that name, "God, my help." He is a 46th Psalm man. Dives is not in suffering because he has been rich; nor Lazarus comforted because he has been poor. Their condition is the natural sequel to their own deliberate life-choice. The rich man has already received - received to the full - everything he bargained for; but Lazarus has received nothing - nothing at least but "evil things." As we have seen, there never was either a Dives or a Lazarus in real life. For the world never does satisfy; and God never does desert His own. "None that trust in Him shall be desolate"; but Lazarus was "desolate." And now the one is in suffering and the other is comforted.
This is not, I repeat, the award of the great Day. The one has yet to face the judgment, and to receive due punishment for all his sins; and the other still awaits the glory and the crown of faithfulness. And though the Lord’s description of their life on earth is marked by the sort of hyperbole inseparable from a picture in black and white, there is no element of the kind in his words about the under world. In this present world Lazarus receives nothing but evil things, and in that world nothing but what "the God of all comfort" never fails to bestow, even here and now, upon those who trust in Him. And what awful solemnity there is in the very tenderness and pathos of the answer to the rich man’s appeal: "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime fully receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art sorrowing." The equity of it all is perfect.
It is as though the Lord put the challenge to us, "Take mammon’s balance-sheet at its ideal best, and God’s at its lowest and worst; and, even on that false estimate, work out the sum, and then make choice whom you will serve."