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SERMON CXXVII.

THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.

If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.—Luke xvi. 31.

THESE words are the conclusion of that excellent parable of our Saviour concerning the rich man and Lazarus, and they are the final answer which Abraham gives to the rich man’s last request; who being in great torment, and not able to obtain any ease for himself, is represented as concerned for his relations, whom he had left behind him upon earth, lest they also, by their own carelessness and folly, should plunge themselves into the same misery that he was in; and therefore he begs of Abraham, that he would send Lazarus to his father’s house, where he had “five brethren, that he might testify unto them, lest they also should come to that place of torment.” To which request Abraham answers, that there was no necessity of such an extraordinary course to be used towards those who had sufficient means of conviction so near at hand, if they would but hearken to them, and make use of them. “Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”

But the rich man presseth his request further, upon this reason, That they might not perhaps be moved by Moses and the prophets; nay, it was likely they would not be moved by them; for they 240had always had them, and yet they remained impenitent: but if a special messenger should be sent to them from the dead, this certainly could not fail to awaken them, and bring them to repentance: (ver. 30.) “And he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” To which Abraham makes this peremptory reply, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”

In which words Abraham absolutely denies that there is any such probability, much less certainty, that those who reject a public credible revelation of God, such as that of the Holy Scripture is, should be effectually convinced by a messenger from the dead. And our Saviour brings in Abraham delivering himself very positively in this matter, and therefore we may presume it to be our Saviour’s own sense, and may rely upon it for a truth; which, however at first sight it may not be so evident, yet I hope in the progress of this discourse to make it sufficiently clear.

But before I undertake that, I shall premise a caution or two, to prevent all mistake in this matter.

First, That we are not to understand these words too strictly and rigorously, as if the thing were simply and in itself impossible, that a man who is not convinced by hearing or reading Moses and the prophets, should be brought to repentance any other way. For it is very possible in the nature of the thing; yea, and likely enough, that a man who is not convinced by calm evidence and persuasion, may yet be very much wrought upon by a strange and amazing accident: and if one, whom he had known241when he was alive, should appear to him from the dead, and declare the certainty of a future state, and the condition of things in another world, there is little doubt to be made, but that this would more rouse and awaken him to consider his danger, than all the threatenings of God’s word; and it is very possible that, by the concurrence of God’s grace, this might prove an effectual means to convince such a man, and to bring him to repentance. And yet for all this, it is not probable upon the whole matter, and if all circumstances be duly considered, that this should generally have a permanent effect upon men, so as thoroughly to reclaim such persons as do obstinately resist the light and counsels of God’s word.

Secondly, Another caution I would give is this r that we are not to understand these words so as to weaken the force of that argument from miracles, for the proof and confirmation of a Divine doctrine; as if our Saviour intended to insinuate, that miracles are not a proper and sufficient argument to. convince men. For our Saviour does not here oppose Moses and the prophets to a miraculous testimony; but he advanceth the public evidence and testimony which Moses and the prophets had above the evidence of a single and private miracle; for Moses and the prophets had their confirmation from miracles; and miracles are the great evidence and attestation which God hath always given to the divinity of any person, or doctrine; and therefore Abraham cannot be thought to speak any thing to the prejudice of miracles, when he says, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Nay, so far is he from that, that this reasoning, of his is 242rather for the advantage of miracles. For Moses and the prophets had the confirmation of many and great, of public and unquestionable miracles; a credible relation whereof was conveyed down to after ages. So that if rational means of conviction were the thing desired, it was not likely that those, who were not persuaded by Moses and the prophets, which were acknowledged by themselves to have had the confirmation of so many undoubted miracles, should, in reason, be convinced by a private and single miracle.

These considerations being premised by way of caution, I come now to make out the truth of what is here asserted in the text. And for the full clearing of this matter, I shall speak to these two propositions:

First, That it is unreasonable to expect that God should do more for the conviction of men, than to afford them a standing revelation of his mind and will; such as that of the Holy Scriptures is. And if so, then,

Secondly, That upon the whole matter it is very improbable, that those who reject this public revelation of God, should be effectually convinced, though one should speak to them from the dead.

First, That it is unreasonable to expect that God should do more for the conviction of men, than to afford them a standing revelation of his mind and will; such as that of the Holy Scriptures is. This is strongly implied in Abraham’s first answer, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;” as if he had said—having such means of conviction so near at hand, why should they desire and expect any other? It is in this case of the Scriptures, as in that of God’s providence; God does not commonly 243prove his providence to men by extraordinary in stances of his power, and by changing the course of nature, to convince every man in the world that he governs it; but by standing testimonies of his wisdom, and power, and goodness; by these God does sufficiently satisfy considerate men of his government and care of the world; and though he do seldom manifest himself in supernatural and extraordinary ways, yet he hath not left himself without a witness, by the constant course of nature, in the returns of day and night, in the revolutions of the sea sons of the year, “in that he gives us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” And these standing arguments of his providence, though they be not so much taken notice of, because they are so common, yet they are daily miracles, and we can hardly imagine greater, and we should be strangely amazed at them, but that they are so very frequent and familiar.

The case is the same as to Divine revelation. God hath not thought fit to gratify the perverse curiosity of men, by affording to every man a particular and immediate revelation of his mind and will: but he hath given us a standing revelation, which at first had the greatest and most miraculous confirmation, and he hath still left us sufficient means of being assured of the truth of this revelation, and of the confirmation that was at the first given to it; and we tempt God, by demanding extraordinary signs, when we may receive so abundant satisfaction in an ordinary way. This being admitted, I shall proceed, in the

Second place, to shew, That it is, upon the whole matter, and all circumstances considered, very improbable, that those who reject this public revelation 244from God, should be effectually convinced, though one should speak to them from the dead. And this is that which is expressly asserted here in the text, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Not but that any man would be very much startled and amazed, if one should come from the dead to warn him out of the danger of his wicked life; but yet for all that, it is very unlikely that they, who obstinately and perversely refuse to be convinced by Moses and the prophets, would be effectually persuaded, (that is, so as to be brought to repentance and reformation of their lives) “though one should rise from the dead.” And that for these reasons:

1. Because, if such miracles were frequent and familiar, it is very probable they would have but very little effect; and unless we suppose them common and ordinary, we have no reason to expect them at all.

2. Men have as great or greater reason to believe the threatenings of God’s word, as the discourse of one that should speak to them from the dead.

3. The very same reason which makes men to reject the counsels of God in his word, would, in all probability, hinder them from being convinced by a particular miracle.

4. Experience does abundantly testify, how in effectual extraordinary ways are to convince those who are obstinately addicted and wedded to their lusts.

5. An effectual persuasion (that is, such a belief as produceth repentance and a good life) is the gift of God, and depends upon the operation and concurrence 245of God’s grace, which there is no reason to expect either in an extraordinary way, or in an extraordinary degree, after men have obstinately rejected the ordinary means which God hath appointed to that end.

1. If such miracles, as a special messenger from the dead to warn and admonish men, were frequent and familiar, it is very probable they would have but very little effect upon men; and unless we suppose them common and ordinary, we have no reason to expect them at all. For it is unreasonable at first sight, that the worst and most obstinate sort of sinners should expect this, as a peculiar favour and privilege to themselves, and that God should not do as much for others, who have deserved it more, and would probably make better use of it; and, if these things were common, it is very probable that men would not be much moved by them. It may be, while the apprehension of such a thing were fresh upon them, they would take up some good resolutions; as sinners usually do, while they are under present convictions of conscience, and the hand of God, by some great affliction or sickness, lies heavy upon them: but still they would be apt to defer their repentance, and put it off till the present amazement were a little over, and the terror of their first apprehensions were abated and worn off by degrees, and after a little while they would return to their former course. And this is too probable, from what we see men do in other cases, not very much remote from this. It is a very terrible and amazing thing to see a man die, and solemnly take his last leave of the world. The very circumstances of dying men are apt to strike us with horror: to hear such a man how sensibly he will speak of the 246other world, as if he were just come from it, rather than going to it; how severely he will condemn himself for the folly and wickedness of his life; with what passion he will wish that he had lived better, and served God more sincerely; how seriously he will resolve upon a better life, if God would be pleased to raise him up, and try him but once more; with what zeal and earnestness he will commend to his best friends and nearest relations a religious and virtuous course of life, as the only thing that will minister comfort to them, when they come to be in his condition. Such discourses as these are very apt to move and affect men for the time, and to stir up in them very good resolutions, whilst the present fit and impression lasts: but, because these sights are very frequent, they have seldom any great and permanent effect upon men. Men consider that it is a very common case, and sinners take example and encouragement from one another; every one is affected for the present, but few are so effectually convinced, as to betake themselves to a better course.

And if apparitions from the dead were as common as it is for men to die, we may reasonably presume that the discourses of dead and dying, of those that are going, and those who come from the dead, would have much the same effect upon the generality of men.

But if we suppose this a singular case (which there is no reason to do), in that case the effect would probably be this; a man that was strongly addicted to his lusts, and had no mind to leave them, would be apt, when the fright was over, to be easily persuaded that all this was merely the work of fancy and imagination; and the rather, because such things did not happen to others as well as to himself.

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2. We have as great or greater reason to believe the warnings and threatenings of God’s word, as the discourses of one that should come to us from the dead. For the threatenings of God’s word against such sins as natural light convinceth men of, have the natural guilt and fears of men on their side, the particular testimony of every man’s conscience, and the concurrent testimony of mankind to the probability of the thing; and to give us full assurance of the truth and reality of them, we have a credible relation of great and unquestionable miracles, wrought on purpose to give testimony to those persons who denounced those threatenings, that they came from God. So that here is a very public and authentic testimony given to the threatenings of God’s word, more suitable to the generality of mankind, and of greater authority than a private apparition, or a single miracle; and if that will not convince men, why should we suppose that this will?

3. The very same reason which makes men to reject the counsels of God in his word, would, in all probability, hinder men from being convinced by an apparition from the dead. It is not generally for want of evidence, that men do not yield a full and effectual assent to the truth of God’s word; I mean, that they do not believe it so as to obey it; but from the interest of some lust. The true cause is not in men’s understandings, and because there is not reason enough to satisfy them, that the Scriptures are the word of God: but in the obstinacy of their wills, which are enslaved to their lusts. And, the disease being there, it is not to be cured by more evidence, but by more consideration, and by the grace of God, and better resolutions.

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The man is addicted to some vice or other, and that makes him unwilling to entertain those truths which would check and control him in his course. The light of God’s word is offensive to him, and therefore he would shut it out. This account our blessed Saviour gives of the enmity of the Jews against him and his doctrine: (John iii. 19.) “Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil; for every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh he to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Upon the same account it is, that men resist the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures; not because they have sufficient reason to doubt of their Divine authority; but because they are unwilling to be governed by them, and to conform their lives to the laws and precepts of that holy book: for the wills of men have a great influence upon their understandings, to make assent easy or difficult; and as men are apt to assent to what they have a mind to, so they are slow to believe any thing which crosseth their humours and inclinations; so that though greater evidence were offered, it is likely it would not prevail with them, because the matter does not stick there. Their wills are distempered, men hate to be reformed, and this makes them “cast the laws of God behind their backs;” and if God himself should speak to them from heaven, as he did to the people of Israel, yet for all that they might continue “a stiff-necked and rebellious people.” Though the evidence were such as their understandings could not resist, yet their wills might still hold out, and the present condition of their minds might have no lasting influence upon their hearts and lives; such a violent conviction might affect them for 249the present, but the sense of it might, perhaps, wear off by degrees, and then they Mould return to their former hardness. Men, by a long and obstinate continuance in sin, may bring themselves to the temper and disposition of devils; who, though they believe and tremble at the thoughts of God and his threatenings, yet they are wicked still; for so long as men retain a strong affection for their lusts, they will break through all conviction; and what evidence soever be offered to them, they will find some way or other to avoid it, and to delude themselves. The plain truth of the case is this (if men will honestly speak their consciences, they cannot deny it); they do not call for more evidence, either because they want it, or are willing to be convinced by it, but that they may seem to have some excuse for themselves, for not being convinced by that evidence which is afforded to them.

4thly, Experience does abundantly testify, how ineffectual extraordinary ways are to convince and reclaim men of depraved minds, and such as are obstinately addicted to their lusts. We find many remarkable experiments of this in the history of the Bible. What wonders were wrought in the sight of Pharaoh and the Egyptians! yet they were hardened under all these plagues. Balaam, who greedily followed the wages of unrighteousness, was not to be stopped by the admonition of an angel. The Jews, after so many miracles which their eyes had seen, continued to be a “stiff necked and gainsaying people;” so that it is hard to say which was more prodigious, the wonders which God wrought for them, or their rebellions against him; and when, in the fulness of time, the Son of God came, and did among them the works which never man did, 250such as one would have thought might have brought the worst people in the world to repentance, those of Tyre and Sidon, of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet they repented not. Yea, the very thing which the rich man here in my text requested of Abraham for his brethren, was done among them; Lazarus did rise from the dead, and testified unto them, and they were not persuaded.

And, which is yet more, our Saviour himself, according to his own prediction while he was alive, “rose again from the dead the third day,” and was visibly taken up into heaven; and yet, how few among them did believe, and give glory to God? So that we see the very thing here spoken of in the text, made good in a famous instance; they who “believed not Moses and the prophets,” which testified of the Messias, were not persuaded when “he rose from the dead.”

And does not our own experience tell us, how little effect the extraordinary providences of God have had upon those who were not reclaimed by his word? It is not long since God shewed himself among us, by “terrible things in righteousness,” and visited us with three of his sorest judgments, war, and pestilence, and fire; and yet how does all manner of wickedness and impiety still reign and rage among us? It is a very sad consideration to see how little those who have outlived these plagues, have been reformed by them; “We have not returned to the Lord, nor sought him for all this.”

I may appeal to the experience of particular persons. How frequently do we see men, after great afflictions, and tedious sufferings, and dangerous sicknesses, return to their former evil courses! and though they have been upon the brink of eternity, 251and “the terrors of death have compassed them about, and the pains of hell have almost taken hold of them;” though they have had as lively and sensible convictions of another world, as if they had spoken with those that had come from thence, or even been there themselves; yet they have taken no warning, but upon their deliverance and recovery have been as mad, as furious sinners, as they were before; so that it ought to be no such wonder to us, which the text tells us, that if men “hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Especially, if we consider, in the

5th and last place, That an effectual persuasion (that is, such a belief as produceth repentance and a good life) is the gift of God, and depends upon the operation and concurrence of his grace, which is not to be expected in an extraordinary way, where men have obstinately rejected the ordinary means appointed by God for that end. To be effectually persuaded to change our lives, and become new men, is a work not to be done without the assistance of God’s grace; and there is little reason to expect that God will afford his grace to those who reject and despise the counsels of his word. The doctrine of salvation contained in the Holy Scriptures, and the promises and threatenings of God’s word, are the ordinary means which God hath appointed for the conversion of men, and to bring them to repentance; and if we sincerely use these means, we may confidently expect the concurrence of God’s grace to make them effectual; but if we neglect and resist these means, in confidence that God should attempt our recovery, by some extraordinary ways; though he should gratify our presumptuous and unreasonable 252curiosity, so far as to send one from the dead to testify unto us; yet we have no reason to expect the assistance of his grace, to make such a conviction effectual to our repentance, when we have so long despised his word, and resisted his Spirit, which are “the power of God unto salvation.”

Without his grace and assistance the most probable means will prove ineffectual to alter and change our corrupt natures; “by grace we are saved,” and “that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.” This grace is revealed to us in the gospel; and the assistances of it are conveyed to us by the gospel; and it is great presumption to promise to ourselves the assistance of God’s grace in any other way than he hath been pleased to promise it to us.

And thus I have shewn you, as briefly and plainly as I could, how unlikely it is, that those who obstinately reject a clear and public revelation of God should be effectually convinced, and brought to repentance by any apparitions from the dead.

I shall only make two or three inferences from this discourse which I have made, and so conclude.

1st, Since the Scriptures are the public and standing revelation of God’s will to men, and the ordinary means of salvation, we may hence conclude, that people ought to have them in such a language as they can understand. This our Saviour plainly supposeth in the discourse which he represents between Abraham and the rich man, desiring that Lazarus might be sent from the dead, to his brethren, to “testify unto them:” to which request Abraham would not have given this answer and advice, “they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them,” had he supposed that the Scriptures then were, or for the future ought 253to be, locked up from the people in an unknown tongue; for the rich man might very well have replied, “Nay, father Abraham,” but they are not permitted to have Moses and the prophets in such a language as they can understand; and therefore there is more need why one should be sent from the dead to “testify unto them.”

Nor would Abraham have said again, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded.” For how should men hear what they cannot understand, so as to be persuaded by it?

It is evident, then, that our Saviour, according to the reasoning of this parable, takes it for granted, that the Holy Scriptures are the standing and ordinary means of bringing men to faith and repentance, and that the people are to have the free use of them. But since our Saviour’s time, the church of Rome hath found a mighty inconvenience in this, and, therefore, hath taken the Scriptures out of the hands of the people. They will not now let them have Moses and the prophets, the gospel of our blessed Saviour, and the writings of his apostles, because they are really afraid they should hear them, and, by hearing of them, be convinced and persuaded of the errors and corruptions of their church; but instead of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, they have put into their hands a legend of famous apparitions of men from the dead, testifying unto them, concerning purgatory and transubstantiation, and the worship of the blessed Virgin and the saints, and the great benefit and refreshment which souls in purgatory have, by the indulgences of the pope, and the prayers of the living, put up to saints and angels on their be half; so that in the church of Rome, quite contrary 254to our Saviour’s method, men are persuaded of their religion, of their new articles of faith, and ways of worship, not by Moses and the prophets, not by the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures (for they every where testify against them), but by ab surd romances, and ill-contrived fictions of apparitions from the dead. I will dismiss this matter with this one observation, that however interested and confident men may set a bold face upon any thing, yet it cannot to considerate men but seem a very hard case, that there should be no salvation to be had out of the church of Rome; and yet the ordinary, and (in our Saviour’s judgment) the most effectual means of salvation are not to be had in it.

But I pass from this to that which does more immediately concern our practice.

2dly, Let us hear and obey that public revelation of God’s will, which, in so much mercy to mankind, he hath been pleased to afford to us. This is an inestimable privilege and advantage which the world, in many ages, was destitute of; having no other guide to conduct them to eternal happiness but the light of nature, and some particular revelations, which now and then God was pleased to make of his will to men: but now God hath set up a great and standing light in the world, the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures; and, by the gospel of his blessed Son, hath “given the knowledge of salvation to all men, for the remission of their sins, through the tender mercies of God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace,” to convince us of the error of our ways, and to direct us in our duty. “We, upon whom the ends of the world 255are come,” do enjoy all the advantages of Divine revelation which the world ever had, and as great as the world ever shall have. “God, in these last days, hath spoken unto us by his Son;” and if we will not hear him, God will employ no other extra ordinary prophet and messenger to us. “If the wrath of God, so clearly revealed from heaven by the gospel of our blessed Saviour, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;” if the terror of the great day, and the fear of eternal torments; if the dreadful sufferings of the Son of God for our sins, and the merciful offers of pardon and reconciliation in his blood, and the glorious hopes of eternal life and happiness, will not prevail with us to leave our sins, and to amend our lives, we have no reason to expect that God should use any farther means to reclaim us; that he should ever make any more attempts for our recovery. And therefore,

3dly, and lastly, Those who are not brought to repentance, and effectually persuaded by this clear and public revelation, which God hath made of his will to men in the Holy Scriptures, have reason to look upon their case as desperate.

Methinks it should not be a desirable thing to any of us to be convinced by an apparition, the thing is so dreadful and full of terror; besides that, it argues men to be strangely hardened in a bad course, and obstinately bent upon their evil ways, when nothing will affright them from their sins, but what will almost put them out of their wits; when nothing will keep them from running into hell, but a fearful and ghastly messenger from thence. What a terrible sight would it be to any of us, to meet one of our companions, whom we had lately known in the world, fresh come out of those flames, with a 256smell of fire and brimstone upon him! What imagination can paint to itself the dread and horror of such a spectacle! The rich man here in the parable, when he was in hell, is represented as sensible of the inconvenience of this; and, therefore, he did dot desire to be sent himself to his brethren, but desired that Lazarus might go and testify unto them: he was apprehensive how frightful a sight he himself must needs have been to them; and, therefore, he desires that they might have a gentler warning by one, who, from out of Abraham’s bosom, had seen the miseries of the damned, but enjoyed the state of the blessed.

But let not us tempt God by any such unreason able demand, who speaks to us every day by the plain declarations of his word, and hath of late years called so loudly upon us by the voice of his providence, to repent and turn to him: by so many miracles of mercy and deliverance, as God hardly ever wrought for any prince and people, and by such terrible volleys of judgments, and full vials of wrath, as have seldom been poured out upon any nation. God speaks to you by his ministers, men like yourselves (God knows, poor frail and sinful men!) but we are sure, that when we call you to repentance, we deliver to you the will and plea sure, the counsels and commands of the great God, which (whatever account may be made of us) do certainly challenge your most awful attention and regard. And we are sensible that we are called to a very difficult and unpleasant work, to contend with the lusts and vices of men, to strive against the strong and impetuous stream of a wicked and perverse generation; and nothing in the world could move us to this unwelcome and grievous importunity, 257but a great and just sense of our own duty, and your danger. And if we will not take these warnings, why should we expect that God should vouchsafe to send an express messenger to us from the other world, to certify us how all things are there, and that not so much to help the weakness of our faith, as to humour the perverseness of our infidelity? And why should we imagine that this course would prove more effectual? “Let us not deceive ourselves;” the same lusts which now detain men so strongly in impenitency and unbelief, would, in all probability, hurry them on to hell, though an angel from heaven should meet them in their way, to give a stop to them. This, indeed, might startle us; but nothing is like to save us, if the word of God, and his grace, do not.

But are we in earnest, and would we “be persuaded if one should rise from the dead?” God hath condescended thus far to us, there is one risen from the dead to testify unto us, Jesus the Son of God, who “died for our sins, and rose again for our justification,” and is ascended into heaven, and set down at the right hand of God, to assure us of a blessed resurrection, and a glorious immortality: and, if this will not satisfy us, God will gratify our curiosity no farther. If we “will not believe him whom God hath sent,” and, to convince us that he hath sent him, hath “raised him up from the dead,” we shall die in our sins, and perish in our impenitency. God hath, in great mercy to mankind, done that which is abundantly sufficient to convince those who are of a teachable temper and disposition; but, in great wisdom and justice, he hath not thought fit to provide any remedy for the wilful obstinacy, and intractable perverseness, of men.

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Now God, who hath the hearts of all men in his hands, persuade us all to “break off our sins by repentance, and to give glory to God,” before death and darkness come, and the day of our final visitation overtake us, when we may, perhaps, be surprised by a sudden stroke, or seized upon by a violent disease, and may have no sense and apprehension of our approaching danger; or, if we have, may find “no place for repentance, though we seek it with tears:” which God grant may never happen to be the case of any of us, for his mercy’s sake in Christ Jesus! “To whom, with the Father,” &c.

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