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§ 219. The Parable of Dives and Lazarus. (Luke, xvi., 19-31.)

The worldly spirit, suppressing all sense of higher interests, was the chief cause of the unbelief or inattention of the eye-witnesses of Christ’s 322labours. In the parable of Dives and Lazarus Christ showed that no miracles or revelations could lead a thoroughly worldly mind to repentance and faith; that change of nature was indispensably necessary. Impressions made upon such minds from without could be but transient and superficial. The disposition with which a given grace is used is the one important element; and their bearing towards Christ’s revelations ought to correspond to the regard which they professed to entertain for those of the Old Testament.

The prominent thought in the parable is this: “He that could not be awakened to repentance by Moses and the prophets could not be by the reappearance of the dead.”592592   There is no allusion in Luke, xvi., 31, to Christ’s resurrection; a proof that it has been transmitted pure, especially as such a bearing could easily have been given to it, as was done in Matthew on the “Sign of the Prophet Jonah.” De Wette has remarked this. Still the passage contains a reason for Christ’s non-appearance after his resurrection to those who could not be brought to believe on him during the period of his public ministry on earth. The subordinate point is the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus; the former, representing those who seek their highest good in the pleasures of the world, and are thereby excluded from the kingdom of God, forming the principal figure. Lazarus serves as a foil to the worldly rich man; but it must yet be remembered that the kingdom found the hearts of rich men far less accessible than those of the humbly poor like Lazarus; for the very reason that their feelings and dispositions were precisely those of the Dives of the parable.593593   The assertion has been made (especially by Strauss) that this parable does not treat at all of the dispositions of the heart, and of their consequences in another world, but only of the opposite conditions of human life, poverty and wealth; and of the removal of such inequalities in the next life. It is pretended that the parable is founded on the Ebionitish doctrine that wealth is intrinsically sinful, and poverty intrinsically meritorious; and, accordingly, that the conditions of men in the future life will be inversely as their conditions here. In support of this view, it is remarked that the parable says nothing of the spirit in which Lazarus bore his sufferings; that it does not ascribe a sinful life to the rich man; and that the rebuke of the latter says, not that he deserved to suffer for his sins, but that it was now his turn to suffer, because he had enjoyed his good things in this life. But (1.) Is not the description of Lazarus, sick and starving, waiting at the rich man’s door for a morsel from his table, and receiving from dogs the tendance which man refused—is not this the strongest possible indictment of Dives’s selfishness and want of love? Misery lay at his door; but instead of sympathizing with it, he sated himself with sensual enjoyments (2.) The sentence, “Thou in thy lifetime hadst thy good things, and now . . . thou art tormented,” implies the cause of his torment; he had sought his highest good in earthly things and stifled all the higher wants of his soul; and now, when torn from his illusions, the sense of want, the thirst for what alone could refresh his spirit, arose of necessity more powerfully within him. The figures, as figures, are not accidental; they contain the truth in a symbolical form, although we must not look for it in all the subordinate details of the picture; and although it is altogether foreign to the scope of the parable to give a clue to the nature of the future life. (3.) The very expression of a desire on the part of Dives to send Lazarus to warn his brothers by describing his sufferings to them, implies that he drew those sufferings upon himself, and might have escaped them by a change of heart and life. Moses and the prophets would not have taught them to throw away riches as sinful in themselves the expression could only apply to the rich man’s pursuit of pleasure, and want of love for his neighbour. (4.) It is true. nothing is said of Lazarus’s state of heart; but then he is only a foil to the rich man, not the chief figure. Moreover, the contrast that is drawn between him and Dives, and the relation in which he is made to stand to Abraham, indicate that he was intended to represent a pious man, suffering during his life on earth, and bearing his afflictions with religious resignation. Perhaps, in the original form of the parable, several points were more prominently brought out than they are in the account of it which has been transmitted to us.

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