As the parable of the prodigal son set before us the grace of the gospel, which is encouraging to us all, so this sets before us the wrath to come, and is designed for our awakening; and very fast asleep those are in sin that will not be awakened by it. The Pharisees made a jest of Christ’s sermon against worldliness; now this parable was intended to make those mockers serious. The tendency of the gospel of Christ is both to reconcile us to poverty and affliction and to arm us against temptations to worldliness and sensuality. Now this parable, by drawing the curtain, and letting us see what will be the end of both in the other world, goes very far in prosecuting those two great intentions. This parable is not like Christ’s other parables, in which spiritual things are represented by similitudes borrowed from worldly things, as those of the sower and the seed (except that of the sheep and goats), the prodigal son, and indeed all the rest but this. But here the spiritual things themselves are represented in a narrative or description of the different state of good and bad in this world and the other. Yet we need not call it a history of a particular occurrence, but it is matter of fact that is true every day, that poor godly people, whom men neglect and trample upon, die away out of their miseries, and go to heavenly bliss and joy, which is made the more pleasant to them by their preceding sorrows; and that rich epicures, who live in luxury, and are unmerciful to the poor, die, and go into a state of insupportable torment, which is the more grievous and terrible to them because of the sensual lives they lived: and that there is no gaining any relief from their torments. Isa. this a parable? What similitude is there in this? The discourse indeed between Abraham and the rich man is only an illustration of the description, to make it the more affecting, like that between God and Satan in the story of Job. Our Saviour came to bring us acquainted with another world, and to show us the reference which this world has to that; and here is does it. In this description (for so I shall choose to call it) we may observe,
I. The different condition of a wicked rich man, and a godly poor man, in this world. We know that as some of late, so the Jews of old, were ready to make prosperity one of the marks of a true church, of a good man and a favourite of heaven, so that they could hardly have any favourable thoughts of a poor man. This mistake Christ, upon all occasions, set himself to correct, and here very fully, where we have,
1. A wicked man, and one that will be for ever miserable, in the height of prosperity (Luke 16:19): There was a certain rich man. From the Latin we commonly call him Dives—a rich man; but, as Bishop Tillotson observes, he has no name given him, as the poor man has, because it had been invidious to have named any particular rich man in such a description as this, and apt to provoke and gain ill-will. But others observe that Christ would not do the rich man so much honour as to name him, though when perhaps he called his lands by his own name he thought it should long survive that of the beggar at his gate, which yet is here preserved, when that of the rich man is buried in oblivion. Now we are told concerning this rich man,
(1.) That he was clothed in purple and fine linen, and that was his adorning. He had fine linen for pleasure, and clean, no doubt, every day; night-linen, and day-linen. He had purple for state, for that was the wear of princes, which has made some conjecture that Christ had an eye to Herod in it. He never appeared abroad but in great magnificence.
(2.) He fared deliciously and sumptuously every day. His table was furnished with all the varieties and dainties that nature and art could supply; his side-table richly adorned with plate; his servants, who waited at table, in rich liveries; and the guests at his table, no doubt, such as he thought graced it. Well, and what harm was there in all this? It is no sin to be rich, no sin to wear purple and fine linen, nor to keep a plentiful table, if a man’s estate will afford it. Not are we told that he got his estate by fraud, oppression, or extortion, no, nor that he was drunk, or made others drunk; but, [1.] Christ would hereby show that a man may have a great deal of the wealth, and pomp, and pleasure of this world, and yet lie and perish for ever under God’s wrath and curse. We cannot infer from men’s living great either that God loves them in giving them so much, or that they love God for giving them so much; happiness consists not in these things. [2.] That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury, and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world. This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments. [3.] That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it. It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us. [4.] That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul. The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.
2. Here is a godly man, and one that will be for ever happy, in the depth of adversity and distress (Luke 16:20): There was a certain beggar, named Lazarus. A beggar of that name, eminently devout, and in great distress, was probably well known among good people at that time: a beggar, suppose such a one as Eleazar, or Lazarus. Some think Eleazar a proper name for any poor man, for it signifies the help of God, which they must fly to that are destitute of other helps. This poor man was reduced to the last extremity, as miserable, as to outward things, as you can lightly suppose a man to be in this world.
(1.) His body was full of sores, like Job. To be sick and weak in body is a great affliction; but sores are more painful to the patient, and more loathsome to those about him.
(2.) He was forced to beg his bread, and to take up with such scraps as he could get at rich people’s doors. He was so sore and lame that he could not go himself, but was carried by some compassionate hand or other, and laid at the rich man’s gate. Note, Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand; those that have not themselves wherewithal to give to them should either bring them, or go for them, to those that have. Lazarus, in his distress, had nothing of his own to subsist on, no relation to go to, nor did the parish take care of him. It is an instance of the degeneracy of the Jewish church at this time that such a godly man as Lazarus was should be suffered to perish for want of necessary food. Now observe,
[1.] His expectations from the rich man’s table: He desired to be fed with the crumbs, Luke 16:21. He did not look for a mess from off his table, though he ought to have had one, one of the best; but would be thankful for the crumbs from under the table, the broken meat which was the rich man’s leavings; nay, the leavings of his dogs. The poor use entreaties, and must be content with such as they can get. Now this is taken notice of to show, First, What was the distress, and what the disposition, of the poor man. He was poor, but he was poor in spirit, contentedly poor. He did not lie at the rich man’s gate complaining, and bawling, and making a noise, but silently and modestly desiring to be fed with the crumbs. This miserable man was a good man, and in favour with God. Note, It is often the lot of some of the dearest of God’s saints and servants to be greatly afflicted in this world, while wicked people prosper, and have abundance; see Ps. 73:7, 10, 14. Here is a child of wrath and an heir of hell sitting in the house, faring sumptuously; and a child of love and an heir of heaven lying at the gate, perishing for hunger. And is men’s spiritual state to be judged of then by their outward condition? Secondly, What was the temper of the rich man towards him. We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him. Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate. The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him. A little thing would be a great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there. Note, It is not enough not to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them. The reason given for the most fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ, and way that they believe it, can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted.
[2.] The usage he had from the dogs; The dogs came and licked his sores. The rich man kept a kennel of hounds, it may be, or other dogs, for his diversion, and to please his fancy, and these were fed to the full, when poor Lazarus could not get enough to keep him alive. Note, Those will have a great deal to answer for hereafter that feed their dogs, but neglect the poor. And it is a great aggravation of the uncharitableness of many rich people that they bestow that upon their fancies and follies which would supply the necessity, and rejoice the heart, of many a good Christian in distress. Those offend God, nay, and they put a contempt upon human nature, that pamper their dogs and horses, and let the families of their poor neighbours starve. Now those dogs came and licked the sores of poor Lazarus, which may be taken, First, As an aggravation of his misery. His sores were bloody, which tempted the dogs to come, and lick them, as they did the blood of Naboth and Ahab, 1 Kgs. 21:19. And we read of the tongue of the dogs dipped in the blood of enemies, Ps. 68:23. They attacked him while he was yet alive, as if he had been already dead, and he had not strength himself to keep them off, nor would any of the servants be so civil as to check them. The dogs were like their master, and thought they fared sumptuously when they regaled themselves with human gore. Or, it may be taken, Secondly, as some relief to him in his misery; alla kai, the master was hard-hearted towards him, but the dogs came and licked his sores, which mollified and eased them. It is not said, They sucked them, but licked them, which was good for them. The dogs were more kind to him than their master was.
II. Here is the different condition of this godly poor man, and this wicked rich man, at and after death. Hitherto the wicked man seems to have the advantage, but Exitus acta probat—Let us wait awhile, to see the end hereof.
1. They both died (Luke 16:22): The beggar died; the rich man also died. Death is the common lot of rich and poor, godly and ungodly; there they meet together. One dieth in his full strength, and another in the bitterness of his soul; but they shall lie down alike in the dust, Job 21:26. Death favours not either the rich man for his riches or the poor man for his poverty. Saints die, that they may bring their sorrows to an end, and may enter upon their joys. Sinners die, that they may go to give up their account. It concerns both rich and poor to prepare for death, for it waits for them both. Mors sceptra ligonibus aequat—Death blends the sceptre with the spade.
--aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas, Regumque turres. With equal pace, impartial fate Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate.2. The beggar died first. God often takes godly people out of the world, when he leaves the wicked to flourish still. It was an advantage to the beggar that such a speedy end was put to his miseries; and, since he could find no other shelter or resting-place, he was hid in the grave, where the weary are at rest.
3. The rich man died and was buried. Nothing is said of the interment of the poor man. They dug a hole any where, and tumbled his body in, without any solemnity; he was buried with the burial of an ass: nay, it is well if they that let the dogs lick his sores did not let them gnaw his bones. But the rich man had a pompous funeral, lay in state, had a train of mourners to attend him to his grave, and a stately monument set up over it; probably he had a funeral oration in praise of him, and his generous way of living, and the good table he kept, which those would commend that had been feasted at it. It is said of the wicked man that he is brought to the grave with no small ado, and laid in the tomb, and the clods of the valley, were it possible, are made sweet to him, Job 21:32, 33. How foreign is the ceremony of a funeral to the happiness of the man!
4. The beggar died and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. How much did the honour done to his soul, by this convoy of it to its rest, exceed the honour done to the rich man, by the carrying of his body with so much magnificence to its grave! Observe, (1.) His soul existed in a state of separation from the body. It did not die, or fall asleep, with the body; his candle was not put out with him; but lives, and acted, and knew what it did, and what was done to it. (2.) His soul removed to another world, to the world of spirits; it returned to God who gave it, to its native country; this is implied in its being carried. The spirit of a man goes upward. (3.) Angels took care of it; it was carried by angels. They are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, not only while they live, but when they die, and have a charge concerning them, to bear them up in their hands, not only in their journeys to and fro on earth, but in their great journey to their long home in heaven, to be both their guide and their guard through regions unknown and unsafe. The soul of man, if not chained to this earth and clogged by it as unsanctified souls are, has in itself an elastic virtue, by which it springs upward as soon as it gets clear of the body; but Christ will not trust those that are his to that, and therefore will send special messengers to fetch them to himself. One angel one would think sufficient, but here are more, as many were sent for Elijah. Amasis king of Egypt had his chariot drawn by kings; but what was that honour to this? Saints ascend in the virtue of Christ’s ascension; but this convoy of angels is added for state and decorum. Saints shall be brought home, not only safely, but honourably. What were the bearers at the rich man’s funeral, though, probably, those of the first rank, compared with Lazarus’s bearers? The angels were not shy of touching him, for his sores were on his body, not on his soul; that was presented to God without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. “Now, blessed angels,” said a good man just expiring, “now come and do your office.” (4.) It was carried into Abraham’s bosom. The Jews expressed the happiness of the righteous at death three ways:—they to go to the garden of Eden: they go to be under the throne of glory; and they go to the bosom of Abraham, and it is this which our Saviour here makes use of. Abraham was the father of the faithful; and whither should the souls of the faithful be gathered but to him, who, as a tender father, lays them in his bosom, especially at their first coming, to bid them welcome, and to refresh them when newly come from the sorrows and fatigues of this world? He was carried to his bosom, that is, to feast with him, for at feasts the guests are said to lean on one another’s breasts; and the saints in heaven sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham was a great and rich man, yet in heaven he does not disdain to lay poor Lazarus in his bosom. Rich saints and poor meet in heaven. This poor Lazarus, who might not be admitted within the rich man’s gate, is conducted into the dining-room, into the bed-chamber, of the heavenly palace; and he is laid in the bosom of Abraham, whom the rich glutton scorned to set with the dogs of his flock.
5. The next news you hear of the rich man, after the account of his death and burial, is, that in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, Luke 16:23.
(1.) His state is very miserable. He is in hell, in hades, in the state of separate souls, and there he is in the utmost misery and anguish possible. As the souls of the faithful, immediately after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity, so wicked and unsanctified souls, immediately after they are fetched from the pleasures of the flesh by death, are in misery and torment endless, useless, and remediless, and which will be much increased and completed at the resurrection. This rich man had entirely devoted himself to the pleasures of the world of sense, was wholly taken up with them, and took up with them for his portion, and therefore was wholly unfit for the pleasures of the world of spirits; to such a carnal mind as his they would indeed be no pleasure, nor could he have any relish of them, and therefore he is of course excluded from them. Yet this is not all; he was hard-hearted to God’s poor, and therefore he is not only cut off from mercy, but he has judgment without mercy, and falls under a punishment of sense as well as a punishment of loss.
(2.) The misery of his state is aggravated by his knowledge of the happiness of Lazarus: He lifts up his eyes, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. It is the soul that is in torment, and they are the eyes of the mind that are lifted up. He now began to consider what was become of Lazarus. He does not find him where he himself is, nay, he plainly sees him, and with as much assurance as if he had seen him with his bodily eyes, afar off in the bosom of Abraham. This same aggravation of the miseries of the damned we had before (Luke 13:28): Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. [1.] He saw Abraham afar off. To see Abraham we should think a pleasing sight; but to see him afar off was a tormenting sight. Near himself he saw devils and damned companions, frightful sights, and painful ones; afar off he saw Abraham. Note, Every sight in hell is aggravating. [2.] He saw Lazarus in him bosom. That same Lazarus whom he had looked upon with so much scorn and contempt, as not worthy his notice, he now sees preferred, and to be envied. The sight of him brought to his mind his own cruel and barbarous conduct towards him; and the sight of him in that happiness made his own misery the more grievous.
III. Here is an account of what passed between the rich man and Abraham in the separate state—a state of separation one from another, and of both from this world. Though it is probable that there will not be, nor are, any such dialogues or discourses between glorified saints and damned sinners, yet it is very proper, and what is usually done in descriptions, especially such as are designed to be pathetic and moving, by such dialogues to represent what will be the mind and sentiments both of the one and of the other. And since we find damned sinners tormented in the presence of the Lamb (Rev. 14:10), and the faithful servants of God looking upon them that have transgressed the covenant, there where their worm dies not, and their fire is not quenched (Isa. 66:23, 24), such a discourse as this is not incongruous to be supposed. Now in this discourse we have,
1. The request which the rich man made to Abraham for some mitigation of his present misery, Luke 16:24. Seeing Abraham afar off, he cried to him, cried aloud, as one in earnest, and as one in pain and misery, mixing shrieks with his petitions, to enforce them by moving compassion. He that used to command aloud now begs aloud, louder than ever Lazarus did at his gate. The songs of his riot and revels are all turned into lamentations. Observe here,
(1.) The title he gives to Abraham: Father Abraham. Note, There are many in hell that can call Abraham father, that were Abraham’s seed after the flesh, nay, and many that were, in name and profession, the children of the covenant made with Abraham. Perhaps this rich man, in his carnal mirth, had ridiculed Abraham and the story of Abraham, as the scoffers of the latter days do; but now he gives him a title of respect, Father Abraham. Note, The day is coming when wicked men will be glad to scrape acquaintance with the righteous, and to claim kindred to them, though now they slight them. Abraham in this description represents Christ, for to him all judgment is committed, and it is his mind that Abraham here speaks. Those that now slight Christ will shortly make their court to him, Lord, Lord.
(2.) The representation he makes to him of his present deplorable condition: I am tormented in this flame. It is the torment of his soul that he complains of, and therefore such a fire as will operate upon souls; and such a fire the wrath of God is, fastening upon a guilty conscience; such a fire horror of mind is, and the reproaches of a self-accusing self-condemning heart. Nothing is more painful and terrible to the body than to be tormented with fire; by this therefore the miseries and agonies of damned souls are represented.
(3.) His request to Abraham, in consideration of this misery: Have mercy on me. Note, The day is coming when those that make light of divine mercy will beg hard for it. O for mercy, mercy, when the day of mercy is over, and offers of mercy are no more made. He that had no mercy on Lazarus, yet expects Lazarus should have mercy on him; “for,” thinks he, “Lazarus is better natured than ever I was.” The particular favour he begs is, Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue. [1.] Here he complains of the torment of his tongue particularly, as if he were more tormented there than in any other part, the punishment answering the sin. The tongue is one of the organs of speech, and by the torment of that he is put in mind of all the wicked words that he had spoken against God and man, his cursing, and swearing, and blasphemy, all his hard speeches, and filthy speeches; by his words he is condemned, and therefore in his tongue he is tormented. The tongue is also one of the organs of tasting, and therefore the torments of that will remind him of his inordinate relish of the delights of sense, which he had rolled under his tongue. [2.] He desires a drop of water to cool his tongue. He does not say, “Father Abraham, order me a release from this misery, help me out of this pit,” for he utterly despaired of this; but he asks as small a thing as could be asked, a drop of water to cool his tongue for one moment. [3.] He sometimes suspected that he had herein an ill design upon Lazarus, and hoped, if he could get him within his reach, he should keep him from returning to the bosom of Abraham. The heart that is filled with rage against God is filled with rage against the people of God. But we will think more charitably even of a damned sinner, and suppose he intended here to show respect to Lazarus, as one to whom he would now gladly be beholden. He names him, because he knows him, and thinks Lazarus will not be unwilling to do him this good office for old acquaintance’ sake. Grotius here quotes Plato describing the torments of wicked souls, and among other things he says, They are continually raving on those whom they have murdered, or been any way injurious to, calling upon them to forgive them the wrongs they did them. Note, There is a day coming when those that now hate and despise the people of God would gladly receive kindness from them.
2. The reply which Abraham gave to this request. In general, he did not grant it. He would not allow him one drop of water, to cool his tongue. Note, The damned in hell shall not have any the least abatement or mitigation of their torment. If we now improve the day of our opportunities, we may have a full and lasting satisfaction in the streams of mercy; but, if we now slight the offer, it will be in vain in hell to expect the least drop of mercy. See how justly this rich man is paid in his own coin. He that denied a crumb is denied a drop. Now it is said to us, Ask, and it shall be given you; but, if we let slip this accepted time, we may ask, and it shall not be given us. But this is not all; had Abraham only said, “You shall have nothing to abate your torment,” it had been sad; but he says a great deal which would add to his torment, and make the flame the hotter, for every thing in hell will be tormenting.
(1.) He calls him son, a kind and civil title, but here it serves only to aggravate the denial of his request, which shut up the bowels of the compassion of a father from him. He had been a son, but a rebellious one, and now an abandoned disinherited one. See the folly of those who rely on that plea, We have Abraham to our father, when we find one in hell, and likely to be there for ever, whom Abraham calls son.
(2.) He puts him in mind of what had been both his own condition and the condition of Lazarus, in their life-time: Son, remember; this is a cutting word. The memories of damned souls will be their tormentors, and conscience will then be awakened and stirred up to do its office, which here they would not suffer it to do. Nothing will bring more oil to the flames of hell than Son, remember. Now sinners are called upon to remember, but they do not, they will not, they find ways to avoid it. “Son, remember thy Creator, thy Redeemer, remember thy latter end;” but they can turn a deaf ear to these mementos, and forget that for which they have their memories; justly therefore will their everlasting misery arise from a Son, remember, to which they will not be able to turn a deaf ear. What a dreadful peal will this ring in our ears, “Son, remember the many warnings that were given thee not to come to this place of torment, which thou wouldest not regard; remember the fair offers made thee of eternal life and glory, which thou wouldest not accept!” But that which he is here put in mind of is, [1.] That thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things. He does not tell him that he had abused them, but that he had received them: “Remember what a bountiful benefactor God has been to thee, how ready he was to do thee good; thou canst not therefore say he owes thee any thing, no, not a drop of water. What he gave thee thou receivedst, and that was all; thou never gavest him a receipt for them, in a thankful acknowledgment of them, much less didst thou ever make any grateful return for them or improvement of them; thou hast been the grave of God’s blessings, in which they were buried, not the field of them, in which they were sown. Thou receivedst thy good things; thou receivedst them, and usedst them, as if they had been thine own, and thou hadst not been at all accountable for them. Or, rather, they were the things which thou didst choose for thy good things, which were in thine eye the best things, which thou didst content thyself with, and portion thyself in. Thou hadst meat, and drink, and clothes of the richest and finest, and these were the things thou didst place thy happiness in; they were thy reward, thy consolation, the penny thou didst agree for, and thou hast had it. Thou wast for the good things of thy life-time, and hadst no thought of better things in another life, and therefore hast no reason to expect them. The day of thy good things is past and gone, and now is the day of thy evil things, of recompence for all thy evil deeds. Thou hast already had the last drop of the vials of mercy that thou couldest expect to fall to thy share; and there remains nothing but vials of wrath without mixture.” [2.] “Remember too what evil things Lazarus received. Thou enviest him his happiness here; but think what a large share of miseries he had in his life-time. Thou hast as much good as could be thought to fall to the lot of so bad a man, and he as much evil as could be thought to fall to the lot of so good a man. He received his evil things; he bore them patiently, received them from the hand of God, as Job did (Luke 2:10; Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil also?)--he received them as physic appointed for the cure of his spiritual distempers, and the cure was effected.” As wicked people have good things in this life only, and at death they are for ever separated from all good, so godly people have evil things only in this life, and at death they are for ever put out of the reach of them. Now Abraham, by putting him in mind of both these together, awakens his conscience to remind him how he had behaved towards Lazarus, when he was reveling in his good things and Lazarus groaning under his evil things; he cannot forget that then he would not help Lazarus, and how then could he expect that Lazarus should now help him? Had Lazarus in his life-time afterwards grown rich, and he poor, Lazarus would have thought it his duty to relieve him, and not to have upbraided him with his former unkindness; but, in the future state of recompence and retribution, those that are now dealt with, both by God and man, better than they deserve, must expect to be rewarded every man according to his works.
(3.) He puts him in mind of Lazarus’s present bliss, and his own misery: But now the tables are turned, and so they must abide for ever; now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. He did not need to be told that he was tormented; he felt it to his cost. He knew likewise that one who lay in the bosom of Abraham could not but be comforted there; yet Abraham puts him in mind of it, that he might, by comparing one thing with another, observe the righteousness of God, in recompensing tribulation to them who trouble his people, and to those who are troubled rest, 2 Thess. 1:6, 7. Observe, [1.] Heaven is comfort, and hell is torment: heaven is joy, hell is weeping, and wailing, and pain in perfection. [2.] The soul, as soon as it leaves the body, goes either to heaven or hell, to comfort or torment, immediately, and does not sleep, or go into purgatory. [3.] Heaven will be heaven indeed to those that go thither through many and great calamities in this world; of those that had grace, but had little of the comfort of it here (perhaps their souls refused to be comforted), yet, when they are fallen asleep in Christ, you may truly say, “Now they are comforted: now all their tears are wiped away, and all their fears are vanished.” In heaven there is everlasting consolation. And, on the other hand, hell will be hell indeed to those that go thither from the midst of the enjoyment of all the delights and pleasures of sense. To them the torture is the greater, as temporal calamities are described to be to the tender and delicate woman, that would not set so much as the sole of her foot to the ground, for tenderness and delicacy. Deut. 28:56.
(4.) He assures him that it was to no purpose to think of having any relief by the ministry of Lazarus; for (Luke 16:26), Besides all this, worse yet, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, an impassable one, a great chasm, that so there can be no communication between glorified saints and damned sinners. [1.] The kindest saint in heaven cannot make a visit to the congregation of the dead and damned, to comfort or relieve any there who once were their friends. “They that would pass hence to you cannot; they cannot leave beholding the face of their Father, nor the work about his throne, to fetch water for you; that is no part of their business.” [2.] The most daring sinner in hell cannot force his way out of that prison, cannot get over that great gulf. They cannot pass to us that would come thence. It is not to be expected, for the door of mercy is shut, the bridge is drawn; there is no coming out upon parole or bail, no, not for one hour. In this world, blessed be God, there is no gulf fixed between a state of nature and grace, but we may pass from the one to thee other, from sin to God; but if we die in our sins, if we throw ourselves into the pit of destruction, there is no coming out. It is a pit in which there is no water, and out of which there is no redemption. The decree and counsel of God have fixed this gulf, which all the world cannot unfix. This abandons this miserable creature to despair; it is now too late for any change of his condition, or any the least relief: it might have been prevented in time, but it cannot now be remedied to eternity. The state of damned sinners is fixed by an irreversible and unalterable sentence. A stone is rolled to the door of the pit, which cannot be rolled back.
3. The further request he had to make to his father Abraham, not for himself, his mouth is stopped, and he has not a word to say in answer to Abraham’s denial of a drop of water. Damned sinners are made to know that the sentence they are under is just, and they cannot alleviate their own misery by making any objection against it. And, since he cannot obtain a drop of water to cool his tongue, we may suppose he gnawed his tongue for pain, as those are said to do on whom one of the vials of God’s wrath is poured out, Rev. 16:10. The shrieks and outcries which we may suppose to be now uttered by him were hideous; but, having an opportunity of speaking to Abraham, he will improve it for his relations whom he has left behind, since he cannot improve it for his own advantage. Now as to this,
(1.) He begs that Lazarus might be sent to his father’s house, upon an errand thither: I pray thee therefore, father, Luke 16:27. Again he calls upon Abraham, and in this request he is importunate: “I pray thee. O deny me not this.” When he was on earth he might have prayed and been heard, but now he prays in vain. “Therefore, because thou hast denied me the former request, surely thou wilt be so compassionate as not to deny this:” or, “Therefore, because there is a great gulf fixed, seeing there is no getting out hence when they are once here, O send to prevent their coming hither:” or, “Though there is a great gulf fixed between you and me, yet, since there is no such gulf fixed between you and them, send them hither. Send him back to my father’s house; he knows well enough where it is, has been there many a time, having been denied the crumbs that fell from the table. He knows I have five brethren there; if he appear to them, they will know him, and will regard what he saith, for they knew him to be an honest man. Let him testify to them; let him tell them what condition I am in, and that I brought myself to it by my luxury and sensuality, and my unmercifulness to the poor. Let him warn them not to tread in my steps, nor to go on in the way wherein I led them, and left them, lest they also come into this place of torment,” Luke 16:28. Some observe that he speaks only of five brethren, whence they infer that he had no children, else he would have mentioned them, and then it was an aggravation of his uncharitableness that he had no children to provide for. Now he would have them stopped in their sinful course. He does not say, “Give me leave to go to them, that I may testify to them;” for he knew that there was a gulf fixed, and despaired of a permission so favourable to himself: his going would frighten them out of their wits; but, “Send Lazarus, whose address will be less terrible, and yet his testimony sufficient to frighten them out of their sins.” Now he desired the preventing of their ruin, partly in tenderness to them, for whom he could not but retain a natural affection; he knew their temper, their temptations, their ignorance, their infidelity, their inconsideration, and wished to prevent the destruction they were running into: but it was partly in tenderness to himself, for their coming to him, to that place of torment, would but aggravate the misery to him, who had helped to show them the way thither, as the sight of Lazarus helped to aggravate his misery. When partners in sin come to be sharers in woe, as tares bound in bundles for the fire, they will be a terror to one another.
(2.) Abraham denies him this favour too. There is no request granted in hell. Those who make the rich man’s praying to Abraham a justification of their praying to saints departed, as they have far to seek for proofs, when the practice of a damned sinner must be valued for an example, so they have little encouragement to follow the example, when all his prayers were made in vain. Abraham leaves them to the testimony of Moses and the prophets, the ordinary means of conviction and conversion; they have the written word, which they may read and hear read. “Let them attend to that sure word of prophecy, for God will not go out of the common method of his grace for them.” Here is their privilege: They have Moses and the prophets; and their duty: “Let them hear them, and mix faith with them, and that will be sufficient to keep them from this place of torment.” By this it appears that there is sufficient evidence in the Old Testament, in Moses and the prophets, to convince those that will hear them impartially that there is another life after this, and a state of rewards and punishments for good and bad men; for that was the thing which the rich man would have his brethren assured of, and for that they are turned over to Moses and the prophets.
(3.) He urges his request yet further (Luke 16:30): “Nay, father Abraham, give me leave to press this. It is true, they have Moses and the prophets, and, if they would but give a due regard to them, it would be sufficient; but they do not, they will not; yet it may be hoped, if one went to them from the dead, they would repent, that would be a more sensible conviction to them. They are used to Moses and the prophets, and therefore regard them the less; but this would be a new thing, and more startling; surely this would bring them to repent, and to change their wicked habit and course of life.” Note, Foolish men are apt to think any method of conviction better than that which God has chosen and appointed.