by Archbishop Ryan, 1891
"Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."--LUKE xvi. 25.
The words of my text, brethren, point to a fact which has at all times been a trial and a perplexity to man. For Jesus, in the parable of the Rich Man, tells us how Abraham, speaking to that lost soul, says: "Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things." Now, this is our perplexing trial--the evil livers do, before our eyes, receive the good things of life--the wealth, and comfort, and ease of mind and body; and likewise the good and patient servants of God receive the evil things of life-poverty, sickness, distress. Dives still lives amongst us, selfish and hard-handed as of old, and nevertheless clothed in purple and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every day, and at the end borne in splendor to the grave; while Lazarus is still the outcast, despite his long-suffering and resignation to his lot; still refused the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table; still a beggar in life, and laid, at the end, in a pauper's grave. Or rather, as if to perplex us more, there is no such exact division of evil to the good, and good to the evil--this might be its own explanation; but there is what seems an absolute want of all order or rule in the division of goods and ills; the good livers being here in good and there in evil plight, the evil doers being now rewarded and now punished. It is a confusion that we seek in vain to arrange to our satisfaction. Our temptation is to give up all idea of there being a just Providence at all, and to set down this medley to the haphazard action of fate, or "luck," as we call it. And all the stronger does this temptation grow when in our own lives we see that the same confusion exists-our best and holiest years being often most full of trials, and our unfaithful and ungenerous, and even sinful years being, perhaps, our happiest and most prosperous.
I appeal to you, dear friends, has not this been your own sore trial? Has not the Tempter shown you, at times, the kingdoms of the world, and the lives of men, and the stretch of your own years, and said: "See this confusion of goods and ills; see these wicked lifted up, these holy ones cast down; see your own sinfulness prospering and your justice come to nought; fall down and adore Fortune, Fate, Luck, or whatever you choose to call me, but cease to believe in a Providence that is nowhere evident on earth, or in a God that gives His good gifts and His punishments without justice, heedless of merit or demerit?" I say, has not the Tempter sometimes whispered to you thus his horrible interpretation of the difficulty? and ought you not to listen gladly now to God's interpretation, to the answer His Holy Spirit has given to this perplexing question? Let us then, for a few moments, strive to understand the answer of the Scripture, that we may strengthen our faith against all such attacks, and out of the very reasons of the Enemy make firm our loving trust in the Providence of God.
Dear brethren, you may have remarked that there are many things in the material world around us that appear to be in confusion and without any order or arrangement from some points of view, while from other positions they are seen to be symmetrical and even beautiful. You may have been in a wood, perhaps, where, when you are walking in one direction, the trees are irregular, and planted, it would seem, without any reference to one another; but turn right or left and you will see that they stand in absolutely perfect lines, with long straight alleys between them, down which the eye ranges with delight. Or look at that very stained glass window there. Seen from outside, what could be more confused, and even unsightly, than the lines upon the glass? But seen from this point all is harmonious in form and color. So is it with the confusion we have been wondering at in the moral world--the confusion in the distribution of good and evil. Looked at from man's standpoint, there seems no unravelling its perplexities, it shows no sign of care or Providence; but seen at the point God sees it from--seen from the point where His Holy Spirit, not the Tempter, shows it to us, the confusion and perplexity vanish, and all is order and law, and beauty and love. That point, brethren, where out of seeming chance and injustice Providence and justice appear, is the Day of Judgment, when God will justify His ways to man. Then the good shall be finally separated from the evil, and the sheep from the goats; then all the good shall be rewarded with good unmixed with ill, and the wicked punished with ill unmixed with good; and the confusion and perplexity of this world's fates and fortunes shall then be resolved finally and simply into Heaven and Hell. This is what the Wise Man means when he writes: "God will judge the wicked man and the just man: then will be the time for everything." As much as to say, this is not the time to look at things, nor this the place. Now, and here, everything looks disordered; but wait till the Judgment-day, and then will be the time to see things aright, as God sees them, and as He wishes us to see them forever; "then," but not till then, "will be the time for everything."
It is, dear brethren, a thought familiar to you that this life is but a time of passage, of travelling on, unrestingly, toward a place of final biding. We read of those who in the rigors of northern latitudes are tempted to rest on their way through the snow and frost, although they know that to rest thus is certain death. And we feel, too, the terrible strength of our temptation in the journey of life to sit down and take our ease here, even at the peril of our eternal salvation. Well, now, we see that God has Himself made it hard for us so to rest. Everything around us is most unlike what we should expect in a place of rest. There is confusion and disorder, and pain and very great uncertainty. There is on earth no place where the soul can say to itself, Here take thy rest. For the sunny spots, like the shifting gleams on the mountain-side, move away just as we have reached them; and even if we enjoy their brightness and warmth for a moment, we have the sad certainty that the shadow of the cloud must quickly be upon us. I say God has, in allowing this confused and ever-varying distribution of the lights and shadows of life, almost obliged us to look from this to some other state where our longing for order and rest shall be satisfied. He has refused us a resting place, that He may almost force us to push on to the "lasting city," where we shall rest in peace, or, as the Psalmist puts it, "where the saints shall be joyful in their beds." See, brethren, how the Providence of God appears exactly where we least expected to see it manifest--in that very confusion and disorder of good and evil which was our trial, and which tempted us to disbelieve in any Divine government at all. We see, now, the hand of God in this economy of confusion, and recognize that the true unriddling of the universe is in the fact that God's day is yet to come, and that we must wait and watch for its coming. For then, and not till then, "His fan shall be in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His floor, and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." Then, and not till then, shall He separate both the just from the unjust, and the good things of His bounty from the evil things of His justice; and He shall then say to those on His right hand: Come, ye blessed, to the kingdom of joy unmixed with sorrow; and to those upon His left : Depart, ye accursed, to the place of unmitigated pain.
Dear brethren, I have said that we are forced, in a way, to look for some such final order and discrimination. What we see around us obliges us to this. Do we not see that this universe, amid apparent confusion, is, even in its minutest action, governed by law and beautified by order? Study it, in any of its parts, and you at once come to law; know it, and you at once come to love it, and this despite much that seems at first disordered and unlovely. Look up to the skies at night, and remember that the confusion of those myriad stars unravels itself to the astronomer, and resolves itself into most perfect law. Look at the tiniest flower of the field. You have, perhaps, seen it a thousand times; but now take it up, examine its little leaves, its exquisite delicacy of form and color, and say do you not now love a beauty that you thought common place before? Listen to that lark singing up there in the sky. You have been hearing that song, perhaps, for hours; but listen to it now. Do you find no joy, unfelt before, in that outpouring melody-some meaning lying beneath what at first seemed meaningless? I say, brethren, that it is impossible to go into any part of nature and not to find law and beauty there waiting for us. And can it be that man, God's most perfect work, is the sole exception? Can it be that in his lot alone there is no revelation of its law, but only final confusion? no unfolding of its beauty, but only utter shapelessness? no interpretation of its meaning, but only a riddle to the end? No, surely not; this would be to put man lower than all creation, whereas he is higher. There is, indeed, no explanation of our chequered lot given to us here; but let us wait--we shall know it there. Thus let us answer the Tempter, and turn this vision of confusion against him who forces it upon our sight, by making it a vision of hope, a reminder that, like the seeming medley of the Universe, the disorder of man's lot will disappear before a wider knowledge and a purer love. "I have said in my heart: God will judge the wicked man, and the just man, and then will be the time for everything."
And, dear brethren, how foolish it is for us to think that we can, in our short space of a few years, take in the full measure of God's designs. He dwells in Eternity; He works in Eternity; His designs are from Eternity to Eternity; and man, in his moment of time, thinks he ought to see and understand all! Would even human common sense brook such folly? Would a legislator allow his law code to be judged by one short clause? Would a painter allow his picture to be condemned before it was half completed? Surely, then, it were wise of us to wait until we know God's ordinance as a whole before we presume to criticise it, and until we see the completion of His design before we pronounce upon its proportion or its beauty. Let us, as St. Augustine says, not narrow God's judgments into the little circuit of our experience, but rather expand ourselves into His eternity, where alone His full justice and beauty can be seen. And let us be further mindful that it is the privilege of the powerful to take their time. Precipitation is a sign of weakness. The weak seize upon the day, the hour, the moment, which is favorable: missing that, they lose their only chance of success. And so, as that precious moment hurries by, they must hurry to catch it. But to the strong man any moment, be it soon or late, is propitious. He can therefore wait, and bide his time in perfect independence. Far more truly, then, can it be said of the Almighty that He need not hurry, that He can afford to wait. His day will come when He chooses: we cannot hurry it by our impatience. And His day will be the day of judgment, the day of justice, of final reward, and of final punishment.
We know, moreover, brethren, that not only are the goods and ills of life distributed in seemingly haphazard confusion among the faithful and the unfaithful children of men, but they are also mixed in their nature; nothing, save sin, being absolutely ill, and nothing, save the will of God, being absolutely good. Sickness, and sorrow, and death may be converted by patience and resignation from evils into blessings; while health, and life, and prosperity may, by an illuse of them, become very real and very terrible evils. But in the end the day will come when good things shall be given to men which no ill use can turn to evil, and woes which no patience can alleviate or turn from being utterly and eternally evil. Of these three states the Psalmist sings: "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup of strong wine, full of mixture ; but the dregs thereof are not emptied : all the sinners of the earth shall drink." Here, in the cup which God pours out to man, the Royal Prophet shows us there are three kinds of wine--the pure and strong (merum), the mixed (mixtum), and the dregs (faex). The pure wine is the wine of gladness without sorrow which He will pour out for His Saints in Heaven; the dregs He will give in bitterness unmixed, and all the sinners of the earth shall drink. The mixed-- wherein the wine of gladness and the bitter dregs of sorrow are mingled together--is the draught He presents to all, saints and sinners, in this life. Let us, then, when we taste in its sweetness the bitterness of its dregs, remember that the pure wine is yet to be presented to us, if we be faithful, and the dregs, if we be unfaithful. And let us remember, too, that we have no right to expect unmixed joy here; that such belongs to a future day; and, moreover, that no evil is given to us here by God but He has tempered it with good, and given us the power to taste that sweetness even in our bitterest affliction.
Surely, brethren, thoughts such as these should go far toward removing the temptation of the Evil One to doubt of the Providence of God. Surely, from the point to which the Holy Spirit has led us, we can see an order in the disorder of life, and in its confusion the evidence of a great and eternal plan. And, O sinner, think not any longer to find a guilty comfort in the fact that your fellow-sinners still go free and walk in pleasant ways. Be rather all the more terrified at this, now that it reminds you of the day to come, the day of final separation, and of justice without mercy.
Now, what is the practical outcome of such thoughts? You know we must not be mere philosophers: we must be practical Christians. Philosophers speculate and argue and lay down maxims and establish theories; but Christians seek to do, not merely to think, what is right. Philosophers may hold wise opinions, but Christians do wise actions. For it is not men's views that will be judged, but men's works. And so let us come to a practical conclusion. And the first very practical outcome of our contemplation of the Providence of God is this: that we can now afford to despise everything that ends with time, and that we now value only what lasts on into eternity. We have now no real hope or fear, except for what may save or ruin us on the Judgment-day.
For see how lightly we ought to think of those goods of earth, which are of so little value that the wicked share them with the just. Since God gives them indifferently to His friends and to His enemies, surely He can lay little store by them. How rightly indignant, then, He will be if we value them as much as His precious gifts to come, which are reserved for the just alone; if we mistake, as St. Augustine says, the solace of the captives for the joy of the children. And the same holy doctor reminds us that God has given to the wicked the riches and honors of this life, lest these should be overvalued by the just.
And only think for a moment. Think of the chosen people of God, the cherished people of the Jews. Look at the map of the world: see the little corner of Asia into which they were hemmed; while the Pagan Empires of the East and West held the rest of the known world. See our own poor, faithful land of Ireland: the chosen people of the Christian Church are in a little remote island washed by a lonely sea; their history is one of short glories and long trials; their name is a name of pity to the world. And proud, imperial peoples, whose hands are grasping, whose hearts are corrupt, whose faith is broken, are victorious in every clime, prosperous, educated, wealthy, and in honor. Ah, how empty, then, is all that prosperity: how little God must value it when it is thus He gives it! How little we shall long for it, or pine over its loss, if only we hold it at the price He has set on it; and surely He knows best.
And you, dear brethren, to whom I love most to speak, you who are the special joy and crown of a Christian priest; you faithful poor, to you this lesson comes home, oh, how touchingly! How sad it were for you to lay great store by riches that you can never possess, or even by the comfort and modest independence that your hard lot prevents many of you from ever hoping to attain. How sad your humble homes would be if you were to think that real happiness dwelt only under lofty roofs, and within shapely walls, but never in the thatched cabins of the poor. Surely for you these are good tidings of great joy, that God, who knows the true value of things, ranks poverty before wealth, and has given, in this life, the lowly lot mostly to those whom He has elected for His own, and the high stations of the world very often to those who are His enemies. Try, my dear friends, to see life thus, and you will not sadden your already sad estate by fruitless longing for what you will never have--for what, if you had it, would not make you truly happy. In your Father's Kingdom there are many mansions; into those mansions from out your huts of clay you will gladly enter, provided only that you set your hearts there, while you are suffering here. I do not ask you to put from you that longing for riches and rest so natural to the heart of man, and planted there by God. But, with the Apostle, I ask you to turn that longing to true riches, not false ones; to true and lasting homes, not crumbling ones of earth; to a rest that will know no disturbance, and not to the troubled and spectre-haunted repose of sinners in this world.
But, brethren, the lesson is for all--for rich and poor. For the poor, as we have seen, that they should not think too much of the evils that oppress them, or of the goods they are deprived of; for the rich, that, accepting thankfully from God the bounties of His hand, they should not set their hearts upon them, seeing that God gives them to those who are His enemies, and to whom He owes, even now, His direst vengeance. Riches, which make this life seem so happy at times, have their own distress and difficulty. If taken at more than their proper value, if looked at as real goods, as an end in life, as a final and supreme satisfaction, they become the heaviest of God's curses, and the most awful of His punishments here on earth, since they render penance so hard, and shut out with their deceptive veil the terrors of Eternity. Look to the end, then: at the gate of Eternity the rich and the poor, the strong and the ailing, the prosperous and the broken, will shortly (oh, how shortly!) meet. What the past has been in regard to the goods and ills of life will matter little then and there; but it will be of awful moment what the past has to show of resignation to God's appointments, of conformity with God's will, of longing and striving for this--God's day. "Then will be the time for everything"--for everything that seemed good and pleasant, for everything that seemed evil and grievous. For then God will judge the just and the unjust, not according to their happiness or misery, but according to their works; and many that received good things in this life shall then enter into torments, and many that received evil things in this life shall enter into comfort and rest.