Sermons by Marlin Harless


(Luke 16: 19-31)
By Marlin L. Harless

INTRODUCTION: THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS. A parable so striking and solemn that, as has been said, "they must be fast asleep who are not startled by it." It is in several respects unique. Figure is so blended with reality, so rapidly passes into reality, that we are doubtful where and how far to separate between the form of truth and the truth itself. [Form of truth or not, it is still truth, emphasis, mine, MLH.] Indeed it has been questioned whether the discourse is to be regarded as a parable at all; whether it is not to be regarded as the record of facts and experiences. Alone, too, of all the pictorial sayings of Jesus, it carries thought into the region behind the veil; it gives us a glimpse into the hidden economy. Jesus said, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last" (Revelation 22:13).

He who has access to the invisible takes us whither the eye of man has never pierced. And yet it is most difficult to settle on what principle we shall interpret the mysterious conversations reported, and what signification we are to attach to the words concerning the world of the dead. Let us not strain the sentences beyond the meanings which they are fairly entitled to bear; let us aim at a calm, truthful, practical application of Christ's teaching to heart and conscience. Our Savior said, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star" (Revelation 22:16).


The Pharisees, we are told in verse 14, had derided the teaching as to "the mammon of unrighteousness," their opposition having been intensified by the declaration, "ye cannot serve God and mammon." The reply of Christ contains an indictment with two counts, in respect of which their mammon worship was made apparent. (1) Their self-justifying spirit before men. Their piety was so disposed as to attract the observation and win the applause of men. It was the covering of covetousness, because it indicated a dependence on men, a wish to make gain of Godliness. The parable which follows, illustrates the same state of mind and heart under another phase of the same world-worship. Certainly the portrait of the rich man resembles the Sadducee rather than the more severe and abstemious Pharisee.

But extremes do meet. Pharisee and Sadducee have this in common---man and the present are more than God and the future: to look well, to stand well with society, is really the horizon of the aim and the prize of the ambition. (2) Their merely outward and legal righteousness. In their casuistry (as, e.g., about marriage, glanced at in (verse 18) they tampered with the eternally right and good; and their essential unbelief was proved by the failure to see that Moses and the prophets prepared men for that kingdom of God to which John had pointed, and to which he had called every one to press. They were so embedded in their respectabilities that they felt no need of this kingdom, and did not receive it. The parable presents a man who, having Moses and the prophets, had never awakened out of a false, carnal security, had never seen his real poverty and wretchedness. And all, in the latter part of the tale, which brings out his wakefulness when too late---the torments of his conscience, his appeal, his cry, his pleading for his brethren---is intended to vivify the worthlessness and worse than worthlessness of the trust on which the Pharisee was built up, and to declare that, before the judgment-seat of the Eternal. Moses and the prophets would witness against him for his rejection of the Light that had come into the world. Consider this, "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

III. Now, having seen its root in moral conditions which Christ intended to lay bare, REGARD THE SALIENT FEARURES OF THE SKETCH BEFORE US.

There is a rich man. No particulars as to his estate are given; no judgment is passed on his character. It is not said that he had amassed his wealth by unfair means, or that he was unjust, or that he was harsh; he is simply presented as rich, fond of show and glitter and good living. Now and again a monarch might assume his robe of costly purple, but purple and fine linen are the ordinary dress of this rich man, and the appointments of his table are always splendid. A jovial, magnificent personage, to whom menials in gorgeous array do homage, and whom all the flunkeydom of his city silently reverences. There is only one drawback. At the entrance to his palace, a beggar---a miserable creature, full of sores---is laid; one so reduced that he is glad of the crumbs that fall from the table. Such crumbs are dainties to him. Clearly, no efforts are made to relieve this beggar; none is employed to heal his diseases; his only guardians and mediciners are the curs that prowl about Eastern cities. The "inhumanity of man" is condemned by the action of these curs. "Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me" (Matthew 25:45).

The rich man has no name, the beggar has---Lazarus, or Eleazar, "God's help." Beautifully, Augustine asks, "Seems not Christ to you to have been reading from that book where he found the name of the poor man written, but found not the name of the rich; for that book is "the book of life?" Thus, day by day, the millionaire, reclining on his couch, his table groaning with delicacies, elegantly sipping at this, and taking that, and withal complaining of indigestion, occasionally sallying forth and dazzling all by his splendor, is yet offended by the loathsome thing at the gate, from which the eye is withdrawn. Day by day, the gaunt form of haggard poverty obtrudes on the rights of wealth; squalor, in all its hideousness, stares into the face of wealth. Is it not the contrast which, instead of lessening, becomes more intense as the curious complexity which we call civilization develops?---civilization, with its heights separated only by hand-breadths from its depths. Day by day it is so, until----

"Died." Ah! A word which it is impossible to expunge, which gathers up the fears and tears, which crowns or crushes the hopes of men. First the beggar. To him death is a message of relief, bidding away from sores which dogs have licked to joys in which angels share, from the flagged pavement, hard and cold, of the palace of the rich man harder and colder still, to the embrace and warmth and fullness of Abraham's bosom. "I is well," says the rich man, when he misses the bundle of rags and disease; "it is the best thing which could happen to that Lazarus!" But the clock moves on; the "purple and fine linen" begin to hang about the limbs; the viands come and go untasted; there is the sickness, the sick-bed, the muffled knocker, the bated breath of physicians and attendants. Oh, horror of horrors! It is death! All must be left. The hands which used to be so full are now still, starched, and empty! The poor to die,---that is good; but the rich man also to die! What is the difference between the two? Of the one the burial is noted; no doubt a grand affair, for which, possibly, he had himself arranged. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

I have heard of a rich man, who afraid that he might not have a sufficiently splendid coffin, procured a sarcophagus from Egypt, and lay down in it to be sure it would fit. The burial; yes, but something more! Beggar and millionaire are in Hades---the Sheol of the Old Testament---the unknown place, the unseen region which contains the departed until the coming of the Lord. What of the beggar? While he was on earth man in pity carried him to the palace gate, and laid him down to starve and rot unless the crumb was thrown to him. When he dies angels carry him to the place of bliss, though not yet heaven, which was signified sometimes by the word "paradise," sometimes by the phrase "under the throne," sometimes by "Abraham's bosom." For the millionaire there is only Hades; no purple robe and fine linen, no sumptuous feast; the robe and the linen are now only a garment of fire, the sumptuous feast only a reminiscence continued in torments. To him Hades is only the reservation to the judgment of the great day. "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44).

And there is the awakening. The Lord describes it in sentences which it is, possibly, better only to summarize. The eyes of the rich man are lifted up, and, lo! Near, yet far off, is Abraham, and---can it be?---with him Lazarus; no rags now, no sores now; his now the "purple and fine linen" and the sumptuous living, for he is in the bosom of Abraham. And through these distances there rings a cry---no cry to the Father in heaven, no cry for repentance; only to "Father Abraham," and only from the pain, even a moment's respite; a cry which is still charged with the old hauteur, "Send that beggar to serve me." To this he has come; there is no thought of banquet or wines; only the tip of the beggar's finger dipped in water and cooling the tongue. Alas! The reply sounds the knell of all hope; mild, yet awful, it is, "Son, remember!" What? The good things are exhausted. He had got all that he had lived for, he had in the bygone existence, a choice of things, and he had made his choice. His reward was drained. Lazarus had no portion in the world which was gone from sight. His election had been outside of it. After all, Joshua had said to Israel, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve…" (Joshua 24:15a).

He has come to his choice; he has entered on his reward. "He is comforted, but thou art tormented." For the rest even supposing the will to grant the request, it cannot be. "There is a great gulf fixed!" (Verse 26), and no passage may be between the upper and lower sides of Hades of the dead. Without God, and without hope." Is it a touch of still surviving humanity, or is it lest the misery be aggravated, that the petition of the rich man proceeds, "Then send him where there is no gulf fixed; send him to my father's house, to my five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment" (verses 27, 28). "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them" (verse 29). "Nay, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent" (Verse 30). If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Verse 31). 1

IV. WHAT A VARIETY OF "INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS" IS SUGGESTED BY THIS PARABLE! It invites thought in the direction of the most awful questions that connect themselves with human destiny. Conscious existence after death:---THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CONTINUANCE OF EXISTENCE---AND OF CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE---AFTER DEATH. THIS CONDITION OF CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE MAY BE ONE OF INTENSE MISERY. CONSIDER WHAT IT WAS IN THE RICH MAN'S EARTHLY LIFE THAT LED TO SUCH CALAMITOUS RESULTS!! (Gordon Calthrop, M.A.) The mind made a hell:---"A great rich man in one of our towns in the West was once taken sick and lost his mind. When he recovered from his sickness he was still a deranged man. He seemed to never know his own wife or children. He forgot all his old friends.

For seven long years he was in this unhappy state. One day, while sitting in the room where his daughters were, he sprang from his chair and cried out in great joy, "Thank God I am out at last!" I cannot describe the scene of that hour. He embraced and kissed his daughters. He wept with joy on the bosom of his wife, and acted as if he had not seen them for many years. At last he said to them, "For seven long years I have been in a burning hell. [Actually, there is no way than man can experience the literal hell of which Jesus was speaking, here on this earth: This man, was speaking of a terrible experience, that was, in some respects, similar to "hell fire," in the future state of punishment! Emphasis mine, MLH]. It was a horrible cavern of lakes and rocks and mountains of fire. I saw millions there, but could find no friend. I was ever burning, yet never consumed; ever dying, yet never dead. No light of the sun shined there, and no smile of God was seen.

[My friends, hear me, are you listening?] I remembered there every single thing I had done, and was tormented in my soul. I thought of the sufferings and death of that blessed Savior, and how I had treated Him. There was no rest to my soul day nor night. I had no hope there. Yet I wandered in madness to find some way of escape. At last, as I stood on the top of a high rock blazing with heat, I saw in the distance a little opening like the light of the sky. I jumped headlong down, and with all my powers made my way towards it. At last I climbed up to it, and worked and struggled through; and, blessed be God, here I am again, with my beloved wife and children." Now, my friends, suppose there is no such place as hell. Suppose some one should be so foolish as to hope there is no such place. Yet, remember, that if God can make a man's own mind such a hell as this while he is yet in this world, He can find a still more fearful hell for him in the world to come!! Beloved, I sincerely hope that this same man was willing to do as much, to avoid the real hell, as he did to avoid the miniature hell!!

V. THE MEMORY OF THE LOST: THERE IS SATISFACTORY EVIDECENCE THAT THE MEMORY OF EARTHLY SCENES WILL BE RETAINED IN ETERNITY. THIS IS IMPLIED IN THE NATURE OF RETRIBUTION. The soul is to be punished for the deeds done in the body; and unless it remembers those deeds, how can it know for what it is punished. Not only will the memory exist in the future world, but it will probably possess far greater activity and energy than in the present life, and thus be enabled to recall the past with a distinctness and vividness now wholly unknown. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

What subjects will probably be most prominent in the reflection of the lost soul? 1. They will remember the gifts of providence, for which they requited their Maker with ingratitude and rebellion. 2. They will doubtless remember the spiritual privileges that they failed to exercise. 3. Sinners will remember in eternity the evil influence that they exerted while on earth, and all the fatal consequences of it. Son, remember:----Like Fear. Like Hope, like Love, like conscience, Memory has a place, a large place, in the heart, in the life, and therefore in the gospel! Memory in another world:----In another state, memory will be so widened as to take in the whole life! Consider this lake of fire: "But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murders, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).

Memory as an element in future retribution:---Memory is that power of the soul by which it retains the knowledge by the perceptions and consciousness of the past. It's operations are altogether inscrutable by us, and can give no other account concerning them than this: that God has so made us that our minds have this particular power. Memory is in every man the infallible autobiographer of the soul, and on its pages, however much they may be now concealed from view, are recorded every thought and feeling, every word and action, every thing experienced, and everything perceived, during the course of life! As in our meteorological stations, by a delicate instrument, with which some of you may be acquainted, the strength and direction of the wind are by the wind itself registered without intermission from hour to hour, so on the tables of memory the whole history by the soul itself recorded the most minute and unerring exactness! Alas! Abraham's voice lashed out to the rich man, "Son, Remember!!" (Luke 16:25a).

Lazarus and his message:---1. There is something common to this life and that to come. Heaven will give us the full gratifying banquet; but here we have, as it were, the crumbs of the heavenly table, not tossed to us disdainfully, but furnished to us compassionately that we may not perish whilst we are waiting for the hour when all our appetites shall be satisfied to the full. 2. Now concerning our estimation of the relative worth of this life and the life beyond. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"---says Christ (Matthew 16:26). "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear"---says Christ (Matthew 13:43). I. The unreasonableness of unbelief:---CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH PRESENTED BY ONE RISEN FROM THE DEAD. 1. The impressions made by one who was seen to rise from the grave, and gave to the spectators his testimony concerning a future state would undoubtedly be great and solemn. 2. The evidence which would attend everything said by such a person, would be irresistible. II. EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH FURNISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES, AND THE ADVANTAGE WHICH THEY POSSESS FOR CONVINCING AND PERSUADING THE MIND. In this examination---1. The thing that meets us is, that the scriptures were written by God, and were therefore written in the best manner that was possible to accomplish their end. The things which are communicated in the scriptures concerning our future existence are in their nature the most solemn and impressive which can be conceived. They are such as God thought it wisest and best to communicate, and are therefore certainly the wisest and best possible. In their own nature also, and as they appear in themselves to our eyes, they possess an immeasurable solemnity and significance!

The sufficiency of Divine revelation:---I. IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT THAT GOD SHOULD DO MORE FOR THE CONVICTION OF MEN, THAN TO AFFORD THEM A STANDING REVELATION OF HIS MIND AND WILL; SUCH AS THAT OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES IS. This is strongly implied in Abraham's first answer, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;" as if he had said---having such means of conviction so near at hand, why should they desire and expect any other? It is in this case of the scriptures, as in that of God's providence; God does not commonly prove His providence to men by extraordinary instances of His power, and by changing the course of nature, to convince every man in the world that He governs it; but by standing testimonies of His wisdom, and power, and goodness; by these God does sufficiently satisfy considerate men of His government and care of the world. The case is the same as to Divine revelation. We tempt God by demanding extraordinary signs, when they receive so abundant satisfaction in an ordinary way. 2

VI. CONCLUSION: My friends, the rich man, like many people today, never considered God, or Lazarus, His servant, while living on this planet, but very quickly, in Tartarus in Hades, he immediately saw his need of God and His two servants, Abraham, and Lazarus, to minister to his needs, but, it was much too late, the die had been cast, he was alone, and lost, without God and Christ!! It appears that the rich man was very, very, very, surprised, in that no man's land of hell!! Beloved, could it be that you are making the very same mistake the rich man made, though you may not be rich, your life, before God, that is: in God's view, is selfish, and conceited, arrogant, and full of sin, you simply do not care for, or love any one, but yourself!! Yes, you are headed down that broad way, although you will have plenty of company; How very soon you, like the rich man, will find yourself, in that far country, looking up from that infernal region in the flames of Tartarus or hell, perhaps crying for help, but there is no help to be found!! How foolish was the rich man, to live, and die without God!! How foolish you shall be to live, and die without God!! Beloved, why do you want to destroy your soul? It is the most precious thing you possess! Why not yield your heart and life to Jesus, by obeying the gospel of Christ?

All normal people, who have reached the age of accountability, are required to obey the gospel, in order to be saved! It should be obvious that young children cannot do that, until they become responsible for their conduct. Why does God require man to obey the gospel? Consider this, it is the only means by which man can come into a saved relationship with God!! Beloved, it is not what you think or feel, that is going to save you; but, rather, what you are commanded to do, in order to be saved! For example: 1. Man must hear the gospel, "How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14b). 2. Man must believe the gospel, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10a). 3. Jesus said, "…Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). 4. "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32). 5. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16a). 6. "…Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10e). "…Behold, now is the accepted; behold, now is the day of salvation.) (2 Corinthians 6:2d). Beloved, do it Today! Today! Today!


2 The Biblical Illustrator, pages 247, 250, 251, 253, 267, &268, Homilies by Various Authors


1. The King James Version, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, 5th Improved Edition

2. The American College Dictionary

3. The American Heritage Dictionary

4. The Expanded Vines, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

5. Theological Dictionary of The New Testament

6. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

7. The New Interlinear Greek-English New Testament

8. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament

E-Mail Address: ( Dear reader, in the event you find errors or mistakes in this sermon: spelling, scripture references, misquotes, etc., please inform me of the same! Thank you! (MLH). Telephone number: (304) 247-6895

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