By Sabine Baring-Gould
1st Sunday after Trinity.
S. Luke xvi. 23. "In hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments."
INTRODUCTION.--What a great surprise for Dives! So utterly unawaited! Dives, who had lived so comfortably, clothed in purple and fine linen, and had had such a good coat, and such excellent dinners, and such a cellar of wine, and such good friends at his dinners, goes to sleep one night after a banquet, and wakes up, and lo!--he is in hell. Surprise number one.
He feels the flames, he perceives himself surrounded by demons, his tongue is burning with thirst, and he lifts up his eyes and sees!--surprise number two!--Lazarus, the poor dirty wretch who had lain full of sores at his door. He did not know that the fellow was dead. And--surprise number three!--this wretched fellow is in Paradise.
There is another story of a great surprise in the Gospels. That is of the man who laid up for himself great possessions, and said to himself, "Soul! thou hast much goods laid up for many years,--I will pull down my barns and build greater--take thy ease, eat, drink and be merry." That night he died, and when his soul came to realise the fact that he had nothing left of all he had laid by--that was a great surprise, and a very unpleasant one.
SUBJECT.--Let us take care that we do not have some such a great and unpleasant surprise ourselves. "Take heed," says our Lord, "to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."
I. Now I am going to tell you a story of another great surprise. The king of Syria was engaged in war with the king of Israel, and one of the servants of the king of Syria told him that Elisha the Prophet saw and knew all that was planned by him against the king of Israel, and that he told the king of Israel, so that the Syrians were never able to catch him at a disadvantage, and defeat him. Then the king of Syria enquired where this prophet lived, and was told that he was then at Dothan.
"Therefore sent he thither horses and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night and compassed the city about." Then Elisha prayed to God to deceive and blind the eyes of the soldiers, and he went out of the gates of Dothan to them, and said, "This is not the way, neither is this the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek." So he went before, and led them along the road to Samaria, the capital of the king of Israel. Then he brought them all in through the gates, and they followed, as docile as lambs, and when they were in the market-place, he said, "Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see." And the Lord opened their eyes, and lo! they were in the market-place in the midst of Samaria, and all around them were the soldiers of their enemy, the king of Israel, with swords drawn, and in the windows were others armed with stones and javelins and molten lead to hurl down on them. Here was an unpleasant surprise!
The king of Israel and all his soldiers were eager to be at them and cut them to pieces, but Elisha was too good-hearted for that, he persuaded the king to be generous, to give them their breakfast and send them home. So "He prepared great provisions for them; and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master." They were lucky to be let off so easily, and they owed their lives to there being a Saint of God there to intercede for them. But you may be assured to their dying day they carried with them a lively recollection of the very unpleasant surprise it was to them when their eyes were opened, and they found themselves in the midst of their enemies, when they fondly supposed themselves in the humble and undefended little town of Dothan.
II. Now for you!--Whither are you going? Whither are you being led? Are you at all aware? I very much fear that a great many of you are as blind and as ignorant of the road you are treading as were those soldiers of the king of Syria. You are going on headlong, chattering with one another, laughing and singing, in open order, very little discipline, and perfectly confident that you will come to no harm. Take care! Some day your eyes will be opened, and you will experience an unpleasant surprise. Then, when your eyes are opened you will see yourselves surrounded by the enemies of your souls, ready to drag you to destruction, and no help near. Very unexpected was this case of the Syrians, that the prophet prayed for them, and that instead of being put to death they were fed and sent away in peace. That is not what you must expect. Dives, when his eyes were opened, cried to Abraham, but got no help, no, not even a drop of water to cool his tongue.
III. No man need go blindly to destruction, for God has given him guidance, and power of seeing whither he goes. The prophet led these soldiers of Syria into the midst of their enemies, but God's good Spirit, which is our guide, will lead us into the Land of Righteousness if we will listen to His voice, and go where he points the way.
We have no right to plead blindness and ignorance, if hereafter we find that we have gone astray, and our eyes are opened when we are in the midst of our enemies, for blindness can not come upon us unless we wilfully shut our eyes to the light, and with the teaching of Christ and His Church ever sounding in our ears, we have no right to plead ignorance.
Moreover, God is so merciful, that He never allows any to go to destruction unwarned of their danger. As He sent His angel to stand in the way of Balaam, so will He send some check, and throw some obstacle in the road you are treading, to bring you to your senses in time, and will not allow you to perish, unless you wilfully and deliberately persist in the road of evil, knowing the consequences, and knowing whither you are going.
CONCLUSION.--Lastly. It was a great surprise to Lazarus when he found himself in Paradise. He had no doubt hoped and prayed to be admitted there, but when he found himself there, he was amazed to see how far its happiness and its peace surpassed his expectations. So with those of us who are found meet to enter Heaven. However great our anticipations, they will be surpassed. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, to conceive those good things which God hath prepared for those who love Him.
May He bring us all to that glad surprise.