« PreviousContinue »
speaks our evangelist ; The rich man said, I pray thee, futher Abraham, that thou wouldst send Lázarus 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. dbraham saith 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.
Before we enter into a particular discussion of the subject, we will make two general observations, which are the ground of the whole discourse. The passage we have read to you seems at first an unnatural association of heterogeneous ideas: a disembodied wicked man in flames ! ver. 24. a conversation between a miserable man in hell, and Abraham amidst angels in glory! compassion in a damned soul, revolving in the horrors of hell! The combination of these ideas doth not appear natural, and therefore they necessarily put us on enquiring, Is this a bare history? Is it the relation of an event that actually came to pass; but colored with borrowed imagery, which Jesus Christ, according to his usual custom, employed to convey to his hearers some important truth?
We shall enter no further at present into a discussion of these articles than the subject before us requires. Whether the Lord narrate a real history, as some pretend, because Lazarus is named, and because a circumstantial detail agrees better with real facts than with fiction : or whether the whole be a parable, which seems not unlikely, especially if, as some critics affirm, some ancient manuscripts introduce the passage with these words, JESUS SFAKE .
A PARABLE, SAYING, There was a certain rich man, and so on : or whether, as in many other cases, it be a mixture of real history, colored with parabolical simile : which of these opinions soever we embrace, (and, by the way, it is not of any great consequence to determine which is the true one,) our text, it is certain, cannot be taken in a strict literal
It cannot be said, either that the rich man in hell conversed with Abraham in heaven, or that he discovered any tenderness for his brethren. No, there is no communication, my brethren, between glorified saints and the prisoners whom the vengeance of God confineth in hell. The great gulph that is fixed between them, prevents their approach to one another, and deprives them of all converse together. Moreover, death, which separateth us from all the living, and teareth us away from all the the objects of our passions, effaceth them from our memories and detacheth them from our hearts. And although the benevolence of the glorified saints may incline them to interest themselves in the state of the militant church, yet the horrible torments of the damned exclude all concern from their minds, except that of their own tormenting horrors.
Our next observation is on the answer of Abrahamı; If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. What a paradox! Who would not be affected and converted, on seeing one return from the other world to attest the truth of the gospel ? Could the tyrants of our days see the places where Nero, Dioclesian, and Decius, expiate their cruelties to the primitive christians, would they persist, in their barbarities? Were that proud son, who wastes in so much luxury the wealth that his father accumulated by his extortions, to behold his parent
in devouring fire, would he dare to abandon himself to his stupid pleasures, and to retain a patrimony, which was acquired with a curse? This difficulty is the more considerable, because Jesus Christ speaks to Jews. The Jews were less acquainted with the state of souls after death than christi
It should seem, the rising of a person from the dead, by increasing their knowledge on that article, would have been a much stronger motive to piety than all their ordinary means of revelation.
My brethren, this is one of those undeniable truths, which although some particular exception may be made to them, are yet strictly verified in the ordinary course of things. The precise meaning of our Savioar, if I mistake not, may
be included in two propositions, of which the one regards infidels, and the other libertines.
First, The revelation that God addresseth to us, hath evidence of its truth sufficient to convince every reasonable creature, who will take the pains to examine it.
Secondly, God hath founded the gospel exhortations to virtue on motives, the most proper to procure obedience.
From these two propositions it follows, that men have no right to require either a clearer revelation, or stronger motives to obey it; and that, were God to indulge the unjust pretensions of sinhers; were he even to condescend to send persons from the dead to attest the truth of the gospel, and to address us by new motives, it is probable, not to say certain, that the new prodigy would neither effect the conviction of unbelievers, nor the conversion of libertines. My text is an apology for religion, and such I intend this sermon to be. An apology for christianity, against the difficulties of
infidels ; and an apology for christianity against the -subterfuges of libertines. Let us endeavor to convince both, that he who resisteth Moses and the prophets, or rather Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the gospel, (for we preach to a christian auditory,) would not yield to any evidence that might arise from the testimony of a person raised from the dead. If the obscurity of revelation under the Mosaical economy seems to render the proposition in the text less evident in regard to the Jews, we will endeavor to remove this difficulty at the close of this discourse.
I. We begin with unbelievers, and we reduce them to five classes. The first consists of stupid infidels; the next of negligent infidels; the third of witty infidels ; the fourth is made up of those who are interested in infidelity ; and the last we call philosophical infidels. We affirm that the proposition of Jesus Christ in the text, that is, that it would not be just, that in general it would be useless to evoke the dead to attest the truth of revelation, is true in regard to these five classes of unbelievers.
1. We place the stupid infidel in the first rank. By a stupid infidel we mean a person whose genius is so small, that he is incapable of entering into the easiest arguments, and of comprehending the plainest discussions; whose dark and disordered mind perplexeth and enslaveth reason; and whom God seems to have placed in society chiefly for the sake of rendering the capacities of others more conspicuous. Unbelievers of this kind attend to the mysteries of christianity with an incapacity equal to that, which they discover in the ordinary affairs of life, and they refuse to believe, because they are incapable of perceiving motives of credibility. Have these people, you will ask, no right to require a revelation more proportional to their capacities": and may God, agreeably to exact rules of justice and goodness, refer them to the present revelation? To this we have two things to answer.
First, There would be some ground for this pretence, where God to exact of dull capacities a faith as great as that, which he requireth of great, lively, and capable minds. But the scriptures attest a truth, that perfectly agrees with the perfections of God; that is, that the number of talents, which God giveth to mankind, will regulate the account, which he will require of them, in that great day, when he will come to judge the world. As many as have sirned wilhout law, Rom. ii. 12. (remember these maxims, you faint and trembling consciences: you whose minds are fruitful in doubts and fears, and who, after you have made a thousand laborious researches, tremble lest you should have taken the semblance of truth for truth itself.) As many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; that is to say, without being judged by any law, which they have not received, That servant, which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with more stripes, than he who kner is not. It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for the cities in which Jesus Christ himself preached bis gospel, Luke xii. 47. Matt. xi. 22. If it were granted, then, that such a prodigy as the appearance of one risen from the dead would strike a stupid infidel, God is not obliged to raise one; because he will regulate bis judgment, not only by the nature of that revelation which was addressed to him, but also by that portion of capacity, which was given him to comprehend it. I would impress this observation on those savage souls, who act as if they were commissioned to dispense the