Rich Man and Lazarus
From the book
Five Pillars in the
Temple of Partialism
Shaken and Removed
By J.F. Witherell,
Ambassador for Christ
Published at the Balm of Gilead Office 1843
"Mene, Mene, Tekel--thou art weighed in the balances,
and art found wanting."
There was a certain 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 the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And 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 in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receiveth thy good tidings, and likewise Lazarus evil things: But now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." Then he said, "I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren: that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." Abraham said unto him, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." And he said, "Nay, father Abraham: But if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." And he said unto him, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:19-31
This portion of sacred writ, has long been considered by our brethren of other denominations as one of the strongest proofs the scripture afford of the doctrine of endless misery in the future world. And there is probably not another passage in the Bible, which has been so often quoted by both clergy and laity in proof of that doctrine. And from the manner in which it has been used by christian teachers, it has long been, and now is a great stumbling block in the way of inquirers after truth. A very intelligent lady informed me a short time since, that she had read the Bible through, with great care, for the purpose of satisfying herself whether the doctrine of endless misery (in the belief of which she had been educated) was true or not; and that after a careful examination of the whole scriptures, she had come to the conclusion that the doctrine of endless misery was not there taught, save in the parable which we now purpose to examine.--And if it were not for this, she declared that she should have no doubt of the truth of the doctrine of a world's salvation. Doubtless there are many persons who entertain similar views, and hence it is of great importance, that this scripture should be correctly interpreted, and rightly understood.
We purpose to show first that the popular opinion concerning the meaning of the text, is incorrect; and then, give in as brief a manner as possible what we suppose to be its true meaning. It is probably well known to the reader, that our brethren of other sects have a very summary way of explaining this parable--or rather, they contend that it needs no exposition, but is literally true as it now stands. That is, they suppose that the rich man and the beggar were real bona fide persons whom our Savior knew, and that all which is said of them did actually and literally transpire within his personal knowledge. But the truth or falsity of this notion, may be better understood as we proceed with our remarks. The parable commences by saying, "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." This is all the knowledge we can obtain of the character, circumstances and condition of the rich man. The Saviour says nothing more of his character, and we can find no account of him in any other part of the Bible. He was rich, and fared sumptuously every day, as thousands now do. He is not said to be avaricious, dishonest, unmerciful or unjust. Our Saviour does not even intimate that he was a immoral man. It would therefore appear not a little surprising, if as our brethren suppose, the Saviour intended to countenance the Pharasaic doctrine of endless misery, that he should not have mentioned some crime of which the rich man was guilty. We know that our partialist brethren have generally given the rich man a bad character; but this probably has been owing to the fact, that they have taken it for granted, that he was doomed to suffer endless misery, and consequently have supposed that he must have been deserving of it. But it will be seen by consulting the parable, that our Saviour gives no authority for such an opinion. He simply says that the man was rich and fared sumptuously; but there surely was no crime in this. If a person by industry and frugality secured to himself a competency of this world's goods, he is regarded as having acted wisely and virtuously. And if he who by honest industry has secured to himself riches, seeks to enjoy them by living well, and faring sumptuously, he does but obey the command of the wise man--to "eat, drink, and be merry, and enjoy the fruit of your labor." And that the riches of the man in the parable were not honestly acquired, and temperately and properly enjoyed, we may safely challenge the whole world to show. From the lack of any thing in the account to the contrary, we are justified in supposing that the rich man was an honest, moral, and as good and virtuous in fact, as any evangelical church-member in the land! The reader will perceive that we are now proceeding upon the ground taken by our partialist brethren, that is, the whole story is literally true. We do not admit, however, that the rich man and Lazarus were persons, known to our Saviour, but we are showing that even on the supposition that this were the case, the parable or story affords no proof of the doctrine of endless misery.
But we proceed.
To notice the beggar. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at the gate full of sores. This also, is all the information we have respecting the character, condition, and circumstances of the beggar. Our Saviour does not say or even intimate, that the beggar was a good man--that he loved and served God--that he walked humbly, loved mercy or dealt justly. He simply says that he was a beggar, full of sores. But there surely was no virtue in this. Thousands of persons have reduced themselves to poverty, nakedness and starvation by their own prodigality, idleness and licentiousness, and brought upon themselves the most painful diseases and afflictions. And for ought that appears to the contrary, we are justified in supposing that the beggar was reduced to his miserable condition by his own folly and idleness. Nay, we might even proceed further, and prove by the strongest circumstantial evidence, that the rich man was a good man, and the beggar a wicked man. For throughout the Old Testament scriptures, wealth, riches and earthly enjoyment is promised to those who are pure in heart, who love God and keep his commandments. While poverty, disease and disgrace is threatened to those who do wickedly. The reader will please keep in mind, that we are not laboring to prove that the rich man was virtuous, and the beggar vicious--we do not suppose that any such persons as are here described ever existed--but we are laboring to show, on the supposition that it was true.
The parable goes on to say, that "it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Now it is worthy of remark, that our Saviour does not say the soul or spirit of the beggar was carried to Abraham's bosom; but the beggar, i.e. his dead body was carried there. It is also remark-worthy that it is said that Lazarus was carried into Abraham's bosom, and that there is not another place in the Bible, where mention is made of any one being carried into Abraham's bosom at death. And yet our partialist brethren suppose that Abraham's bosom means heaven--a place of unmixed felicity? How absurd, dear reader, is this idea, on the supposition that the story is to be understood literally? What is Abraham's bosom more than the bosom of any other saint in glory? The story goes on to say, that "the rich man also died and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torment." From the manner in which the death of these men is stated, it would seem that they both died at the same time. "The beggar died, and was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torment." Now on the supposition that our Saviour intended to inculcate the doctrine of endless woe, does it not appear very remarkable, that he should have selected such a person as a fit subject for that awful fate? Especially when this is the only place in the whole Bible, where any intimation is given of suffering after death? It certainly appears to us altogether unaccountable. But there is no end to the difficulties presented by the common exposition of the parable, not the least of which is,
The prayer of the rich man to Abraham. "And he cried, and said Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." Now the reader must be aware, that our partialist brethren have always been in the habit of representing the damned, as being filled with cursing and blasphemy. But here is one whom they suppose to be in the prison-house of woe, praying, and that most earnestly and fervently. It should be observed however, that his prayer is offered to Abraham instead of God, which makes the common exposition of the passage still more difficult. For supposing the common view of the subject correct, what should induce the rich man to pray to Abraham? Did he suppose that the patriarch had authority and power to mitigate his sufferings and alleviate his distress? And then his request was most singularly strange. "Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." Here again are difficulties almost innumerable presented. Supposing the rich man to have been actually in a flame of fire in the spirit world, what possible good could he have expected from a drop of water? If both he and the beggar were in the spirit world, why should the one be represented as having eyes and a tongue, and the other fingers? And from whence was the drop of water to be obtained? And what authority had Abraham to send Lazarus to the rich man? Are we not taught to believe that in the kingdom of immortal blessedness, all are free and equal? Or are we to suppose that the relations of master and servant there exists, as the request of the rich man would seem to imply? And then again, why should the rich man have requested Lazarus to be sent to him? Did he suppose the beggar to be indebted to him, for the crumbs with which he had permitted him to be fed? No satisfactory answer ever has or ever can be given to these questions, on the ground that this is a statement of literal facts. Let us notice the answer of Abraham to the prayer of the rich man. "And Abraham said, son remember thou in thy life receivedst good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." The reader will please observe that the patriarch does not even intimate that the "torment" of the rich man was a punishment for sins, committed while on earth; neither does he reprove the rich man for offering his prayer to him instead of God; but he simply tells him that in his lifetime he had received good things, and Lazarus evil things. And then as a further excuse for not complying with his request, he tells him that "between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence." Now if the hell here spoken of were such a place as it is generally supposed to be, and Abraham's bosom is the place of immortal blessedness, is it not rather a novel idea, to suppose that in order to keep the saints out of hell, it was necessary to confine them in heaven, by fixing a great gulf between the two places? For it will be seen that the first object of this gulf, as stated by Abraham, was to prevent, the inhabitants of what is supposed to be the celestial world, from emigrating to what is supposed to be the world of woe! And is it not surprising also , that it never has occurred to the minds of those who suppose this parable to be a relation of literal facts, that a gulf however wide and deep, would be no sort of hindrance to a disembodied spirit, upon which the laws of matter could have no power or control?
Finding himself repulsed in the first request, the rich man proceeds to make a second and different one.--"I pray thee, therefore Father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come to this place of torment." Now we have always understood our good brethren who contend for the doctrine of future wretchedness to say, that the poor, unfortunate victims of Almighty wrath and vengeance, become as soon as they enter their gloomy abode, dead to every feeling of sympathy, pity, and compassion, and that they are there filled only with evil passions and desires, and exult even, when one is added to their number. But it seems to have been quite different with the rich man! His own wretchedness seems for the time to have been forgotten in his anxiety for the safety of his five brethren! Why was this? Our partialist brethren readily confess that they are unable to tell. But, let us notice the patriarch's reply. "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." Now here is an important point--"They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." Hear them upon what? And about what? The rich man had requested Lazarus to be sent to his brethren "that he might testify unto them," and give them such instruction as would enable them to escape the "place of torment" in which he was suffering. But Abraham replies "they have Moses and the prophets let them hear them." Now this implies that Moses and the prophets had given instruction, as would if heeded, preserve them from the awful fate of their brother. But if Moses or the prophets had counseled their fellow men how to escape, they must have known from what it was necessary to escape. And hence if the popular view of this subject is correct, Moses and the prophets must have taught the doctrine of endless misery! But where in all the writings of Moses and the prophets, can such a doctrine be found? It cannot be found. Even our partialist brethren themselves, the most enlightened and intelligent of them, freely admit the doctrine of endless misery is not taught in the Old Testament scriptures.--This then, of itself, aside from all the objections before raised is sufficient to prove the falsity of the common exposition of the parable. We have thus gone through with the story of the rich man and Lazarus, and shown as we humbly believe, the utter impossibility of reconciling it with reason and the general tenor of the scriptures, if we adopt the popular view of it. We therefore infer that it is a parable, and as such we shall proceed to explain it. But before we do this, we will notice very briefly,
The word hell. There are three words in the original language of the New Testament, which are translated hell, viz. Hades, Tartaros and Gehenna. The first being the origin of the word hell in the parable we are noticing, is all that needs our attention. Hades is a translation of the Hebrew Sheol, (into Greek) which is the original word that throughout the Old Testament scriptures is rendered hell in our English bibles.--It occurs 64 times in the Old Testament, and is rendered pit three times, grave twenty nine times, and in every other place where it occurs it is rendered hell. But we believe that no person whose mind is free from prejudice, will say after a careful examination of all the places where it occurs, that in a single instance it means a place of misery in the future world. In its original and primary sense, it signified says Dr. Campbell, the state of the dead, in general, without regard to their goodness or badness, their happiness or misery. Dr. Whitby says "all men go to Sheol, (Hades or Hell,) there Jacob, and Job, and David and Hezekiah expected and even desired to be." Hades occurs in eleven places in the New Testament, in ten of which it is translated hell. The following are some of the places where it occurs.
Matt. 9:23. "And thou Capernaum which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell." That the word hell does not here mean a place of misery in the future world is proved from the fact, that our Saviour was speaking of a city.
Acts 2:27. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption." These words are quoted from Psalms and applied to Christ. No person can suppose that the soul of the blessed Saviour was in a place of torment in the future world. Certainly the trinitarian believers in endless misery, cannot suppose that the eternal God went of his own accord and suffered in the prison house of woe! The obvious meaning of the passage is that the soul of Christ was not left in the grave, nor his body permitted to corrupt and perish. Rev. 20:14. "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire, this is the second death." The reader will at once perceive that if we understand hell to mean a place of punishment after death, then the passage is entirely without meaning; for hell is represented as being cast into hell, i.e. into itself, for the lake of fire here spoken of, all believers in endless misery suppose to mean the place of the damned.
1 Cor. 15:55. "O grave where is thy victory?" The original of the word grave in this passage is the same as the original of hell in the parable of the rich man and the beggar. This passage is a quotation from the prophecy of Hosea 13:14 where the word sheol occurs twice. It reads thus--I will ransom them from the power of Sheol, I will redeem them from death. O death I will be thy plagues, O Sheol I will be thy destruction.--Sheol, Hades and Hell are therefore to be destroyed for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (note by Gary Amirault. this verse is proof there are important differences between Greek texts. In the verse "O grave where is thy victory," the Greek word for grave in the Textus Receptus is hades which the KJV translators consistently translated Hell except in this verse. They did not want to make it appear Christ was victorious over their traditional Hell, so they chose the word grave in place of the word Hell which they used every place else where the word hades occurs in the New Testament. The Nestle-Aland Greek Text, used by most Bible translators today, has the Greek word thanatos where the Textus Receptus/KJV text has hades. Thanatos is usually translated death. If the KJV translators were consistent in their translating, which they weren't, their text would have read, "O Hell where is thy victory" implying that hell will be conquered. Love wins all! There are many places in most traditional Bible translations where translators have taken great liberty with their translating to protect the sacred "tradition" of Hell which makes the word of God of no effect. Matthew 15:6-9)
Were it not for wearying the patience of the reader, I might quote other passages to the same purpose, but enough no doubt has been written upon this point to convince every candid and intelligent mind that neither Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek, or Hell in our own language properly signifies a place of punishment after natural death. The plain and obvious meaning of these words, (or this word, for properly, it is but one word repeated in different languages) is the grave, or the state of the dead.
We may therefore pass, to give what we suppose to be the true meaning of the parable; premising by the way, however, that in the study of the sacred scriptures, especially dark and difficult passages the context or connection should always be taken into consideration in order to determine the signification of the passage; and in no case should a single passage of scripture be separated out from its connection, and used as proof of any doctrine or tenet whatever.
By carefully reading the chapter previous to the one in which this parable is found, it will easily be perceived that there is an intimate connection between the two, being in fact but one discourse of the Saviour, delivered at one and the same time.
The several parables which are recorded in these chapters seem to have been spoken with the design of showing the unreasonableness and inconsistency of the Jews, in finding fault with our Lord because he received sinners and ate with them. According to their own self-righteousness pretensions, they were in no need of the counsels, instructions and forgiveness of the Saviour, while the publicans and sinners with whom he ate and associated, were according to their views in a most wretched and deplorable condition. If, therefore, they could justify themselves in searching for a stray sheep or a lost piece of silver, how could they condemn him for using all proper means to reclaim and save lost and sinful men? In the parables of the prodigal son and the unjust steward he not only severely rebukes their self-righteousness and selfishness, but portrays their pride and arrogance in such a light as to mortify and humble them.
And then to show the folly of blindly adhering to the Jewish mode of worship, and observing the rites and ceremonials of the law, as also the painful consequences which would result from so doing, he spake the parable, or figure of speech, designed to show the extent and heinousness of their guilt. Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery. Those who understand the parable which we are noticing, to be a relation of literal facts, have found no little difficulty in accounting for the occurrence of this passage in this place. To suppose that "he who spake as never man spake" broke off in the middle of an animated and interesting discourse, and went away to talk about the sin of adultery, is to say the least, not a little extraordinary. The learned and celebrated methodist commentator, Dr. Adam Clark, in his commentary upon this subject, says, "This appears to be a part of the sermon on the mount, and would stand in a much better connection there than here." We should be of the same opinion. Indeed, if this and the parable following it, are to be understood literally, as our opposing brethren contend, there is just about as much connection between the two, as there is between the former and Moses' account of the creation of the world. But if this language is understood parabolically, as it was evidently designed to be, the whole appears plain and simple, and there is great propriety and aptness in the figure used by the Great Teacher. The Saviour's meaning was in all probability this--as a man who should forsake his wife, and marry another woman would be guilty of adultery--so the Jews, if they had forsaken their form of worship, and adopted some other, before the law was abrogated, would have been guilty of a similar impropriety and sin. But after they had been divorced from the law and its ceremonials by God himself, by still adhering to it, and practicing its rites, they committed an offence, which might be aptly illustrated by a person marrying a woman who legally as well as morally belonged to another. This impropriety and sin, the leaders among the Jews, more particularly the Pharisees and the priest were guilty of. Notwithstanding God had ceased to give any token of his acceptance or approbation, they continued to offer burnt sacrifices, and to perform the rituals of the Mosaic law. And this, too, after the promised Shiloh for whom they were all looking had made his appearance, and had given such proof of his Messiahship, "by signs, miracles, and wonders, which God did by him in the midst of the people," as ought to have convinced even the most skeptical among them. And for their adherence to the law, and their unbelief of the gospel, God was about to punish them, by giving them over for a time to hardness of heart and blindness of mind; while the Gentiles whom they regarded as no better than dogs, were to be admitted to a participation in the joys of the gospel. To portray in the most glowing colors, to the minds of his hearers, the consequences of blind adherence to the law, and also the reward of believing, our Saviour spake the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. "There was a certain rich man which was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day." (footnote inserted here: It may be proper to remark in this place, that this story was not original with the Saviour, but was simply used by him to illustrate his subject. The story was probably familiar to his hearers and our Saviour for that reason took occasion to make a practical application of it. In "Paige's Selections," we find the following from Dr. Whitby--"That this is a parable, and not a real history of what was actually done, is evident (1) Because we find this very parable in the Gemara Babylonicum whence it is cited by Mr. Sheringham, in the preface to his Joma. (2) From the circumstances of it, viz. The rich man's lifting up his eyes in hell, and seeing Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, his discourse with Abraham, his complaint of being tormented with flames, and his desire that Lazarus might be sent to cool his tongue; and if all this be confessedly parable, why should the rest, which is the very parable in the Gemara, be accounted history!"--end footnote) Annot in loc.
By the rich man, our Saviour evidently intended to represent the Jewish priests, who were literally clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. The Mosaic law provided for the support of the Priests, and granted to them certain portions of the sacrifices or offerings which were brought by the people to be offered unto the Lord. Not only so, but they were also blessed above all others, in that "to them was committed the oracles of God." They therefore not only fared sumptuously with respect to temporal things, but they were also privileged with spiritual food.
"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; and moreover the dogs came and licked his sores." "By the beggar is meant the Gentiles, who in a moral point of view were poor and degraded, and who were regarded by the self righteous Jews as no better than dogs.
By the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, and with which the beggar desired to be fed, our Saviour represents the willingness, and even anxiety of the Gentiles to acquaint themselves with God, and the requirements of his law, as given to Moses; and by the dogs which came and licked his sores, is probably meant the heathen or Gentile priests, who sought to satisfy the wants of the people with their heathen notions and traditions.
"And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." When the gospel was preached to the Gentiles, by the apostles of Jesus, they joyfully and gladly embraced it. They then died to sin, to idolatry and superstition, and were guided by the apostles to the faith of Abraham. (footnote: The term angel, is a name of office, and not as is too generally supposed, of nature. It literally signifies a messenger, minister, or servant, and might therefore be appropriately applied to the apostles of Christ.) Our Lord uses a similar figure in Matt. 8:11,12. "And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Now that the kingdom of heaven here, and Abraham's bosom in the parable under consideration did not mean the kingdom of immortal blessedness, is shown from the succeeding verse, where it is said "But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness." & .c "The rich man also died and was buried." When "the kingdom of heaven was preached and men rushed into it," then the time had arrived for the abrogation of the law, and the putting away of its ceremonials. The priests therefore, and those who ministered at the Jewish altars, as a necessary consequence died a spiritual as well as a political death. God ceased to accept their sacrifices, and gave no token that he approbated their mode of worship. They therefore died to that spiritual enjoyment, and happiness in the worship of God, which in times previous had given them so great a pre-eminence over other people, particularly, the heathen or Gentile nations.
The rich man's lifting up his eyes in hell, "being in torment," is designed to represent the disappointment and misery of the Priests on finding that their office, with all its appurtenances and blessings was taken from them. And this misery was probably heightened by their witnessing the happiness enjoyed by the Gentile believers in the gospel. As they saw those whom they had ever regarded as dogs, filled with joy and rejoicing, and receiving such tokens of the divine favor and approbation as could not be misunderstood; and reflected as they naturally would, that the gospel was first preached and offered unto them, and might have been accepted, had not their pride and self-righteousness, and hardness of heart prevented, they could not but suffer the greatest compunction and condemnation. We have already shown that the word hell in this parable, in its most general sense signifies the grave, or the place of the dead. It is often used, however, in a figurative sense, the same as are the words death, dead, grave & c. So Jonah used it, (Jonah 2:2) "Out of the belly of hell cried I." Jonah supposed himself to be the same as in the grave, or place of the dead. So David says "the sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold of me," Meaning that he was very near death. And also in another place he praises God for having delivered him from the lowest hell--i.e. for having preserved his life, and saved him from the grave. (footnote: Some writers have supposed, that Sheol, Hades or hell is sometimes used to signify great temporal calamity, suffering, and affliction, and have so understood it in this parable, but we believe that in every instance of its occurrence in the Bible, it may be more consistently explained to mean the grave or state of the dead, either literally or figuratively.--end footnote) It is not necessary that we suppose, because the rich man was in torment, that hell is therefore a place of torment. His torment or rather the torment of those whom he was designed to represent, was not so much the consequence of being in hell as it was the reflection that their occupation was gone with all its immunities and blessings.
"And he cried and said Father Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." The priests finding that their burnt offerings and sacrifices were not accepted, and that the Gentiles were receiving peculiar blessings, and manifestation of God's favor, would gladly participate in their joys and blessings, though they were unwilling or unable to receive those blessings in the only divinely appointed way--i.e. by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence they turned to the promises made to Abraham, and recorded by Moses and endeavored to derive consolation from them. But the blessings there promised to all men, could not be enjoyed in this life, only through faith in Christ. This they found to be the case, and were at the same time reminded of the great privileges and blessing which they had enjoyed, while the Gentiles were left to grope in heathen darkness. But a change had taken place, and the Gentiles by embracing the gospel, had become the recipients of "good things," while the Priests, by rejecting the gospel, had brought upon themselves the "evil things," which their pride and unbelief merited. They had moreover continued in unbelief, and had opposed the gospel so long, that God had for a time given them over to blindness of mind, "a great gulf was fixed" between them and the christians, so that they could not believe in Christ as the true Messiah, however ardently they might desire to become partakers of the joys of those who had embraced the gospel. This state of things, our Saviour had before predicted. (See Matt. 23:38,39) And now his prediction was verified. The priests had so long and so bitterly opposed the Saviour, that they could not bring themselves to believe that he was the very Messiah for whom they were anxiously looking. (footnote: I doubt not, that many person at the present time, have opposed christianity, and ridiculed the scriptures, at first, perhaps simply to be of "the opposite party," and have continued to do so till like the Jewish priests, when they would gladly enjoy the consolations of the Gospel, they have found it impossible to believe it, owing to objections which they have raised against it, and which at first were only imaginary, having become so deeply impressed upon their minds as to appear real ones.--end footnote)
Finding therefore, from an examination of the promises to Abraham that, there was no hope for themselves, they naturally, next turn their thoughts to their countrymen, who in the parable are denominated five brethren. The common people among the Jews, had never manifested that hostility and malignity towards the Saviour and his followers, which had ever characterized the conduct of the proud and self righteous priests; and even when they had persecuted the Saviour or his followers, they had been instigated to do so, by the priests. Feeling condemned for their conduct, and anxious that those who had done wrong in opposing the gospel, more through their influence, than from any desire of their own, to do so, should not become sharers of their wretchedness, (in which case their own sufferings would be augmented by the upbraidings of their comparatively innocent brethren.) the priests desired that the Gentiles might be sent to preach the gospel to those brethren.
But they are told that their brethren "have Moses and the prophets," Both Moses and the prophets had written of the coming of Christ, and had described his character, and the object of his mission in so plain a manner that all who examined their testimony without prejudice, and with their minds open to conviction, could not but be convinced that Jesus was the very Christ. The priests however, knowing that (through their influence perhaps) the testimony of the prophets had failed to convince their brethren, still urged their petition--"Nay father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." If they could have some more convincing evidence of the Messiahship of Jesus, they would be led to repent of their former hostility to the Saviour, and would embrace the gospel. But they are very justly told that "if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead." The Jews acknowledged the authenticity of the writings of Moses, and the inspiration of the prophets. If therefore, they would not receive their testimony, it was not to be supposed that they would believe the testimony of the Gentiles.
Such is the use, which we suppose our Saviour to have made of the parable. What the original meaning and design of it was, we, of course, have no means of knowing, nor is it of consequence that we should know. It is sufficient for us to know the use which was made of it by our Saviour. And we have as we believe, clearly and fully proved, that he used it solely and exclusively to show the effects of the rejection of the gospel of the Jews, and its acceptance by the Gentiles--that it has no allusion to the future state of existence. ONE OF THE MAIN PILLARS IN THE TEMPLE OF PARTIALISM, IS THEREFORE SHAKEN AND REMOVED!
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