« ÎnapoiContinuă »
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
ST. LUKE, xvi. 22.
The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom.
THE practical meaning of the aweful parable, which you have heard this day, and what was the particular crime, for which the rich man was so severely punished, are not difficult to be understood. Although many and very useful lessons may be derived from their explanation; I shall not, at present, enter into any more than a short consideration of them; - but shall confine myself, principally, to some curious and important questions, which the history itself suggests; and the effects which the answers to them ought to have on our lives and conversations.
The first of these is, whether we have here presented to us the history of two real men, or no.
It is, I believe, a very common idea among the general readers of Scripture, that our Saviour here gives us an account of what had happened to two well-known persons, [well known, at
least, to all His hearers,] who had lived and died, in Jerusalem, a little time before. And the Christians, who now live in that country, are so persuaded of this, that, among many other pretended antiquities, they show to strangers a ruinous building, which they call the house of this very rich man. This, indeed, is quite impossible; because Jerusalem was entirely thrown down by the Romans, and has undergone so many changes, and misfortunes since, that even the Temple can only be traced by its foundations, and by the mountain on which it was built. Nor does there seem to be very great weight in their opinion', who think that Lazarus, at least, must have been a real person; because he is mentioned by name: still less in the opinion of those, who suppose that this is the same Lazarus, the friend of Christ, whom He raised from the dead. For that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, so far from being a beggar, was a man, to all appearance, in easy if not in wealthy circumstances; living in his own house, in Bethany, and giving feasts and entertainments, not only to our Saviour, but to His twelve apostles, and to numbers of the Jews besides. Nor does it appear possible, that this conversation of our Lord with the Pharisees, could have taken place during the three days between the death of Lazarus and his resurrection.
1 Calvin, Harmonia.
But Lazarus, which is only the way in which the common people among the Jews pronounced Eleazar, signifies, "our help is in God;" and though the name is very usual among the Jews; and though there may, for aught we know, have been a real beggar of that name, well known in Jerusalem; yet I am myself inclined to think, that our Saviour only used it to give force and clearness to His language; and to teach us, that, even the poorest and most miserable, who believe in Him, shall certainly have God for their helper. We know, however, that the account given by Christ cannot be understood according to the very letter of His expressions; since the bodies of these two men, supposing that they were real persons, must naturally have been rotting in the grave; and "a spirit,” saith Christ, "hath not flesh and bones"- to dip its fingers in water, or to have its tongue cooled. But, in truth, these expressions of our Saviour, must be understood, as all other parables are understood, as a comparison, or similitude; in which the persons described are put as an outward covering to a concealed and secondary meaning.
Thus, when Jotham relates the story of the trees choosing a bramble for their king2, he does not mean that such a thing could ever really happen: but that the Israelites were acting as 1 St. Luke, xxiv. 39. 2 Judges, ix.
foolishly in making Abimelech their head; as the trees would have done, had they elected a bramble. Again, when Christ in his parables, tells us of a marriage supper; or of a vineyard; or speaks of Himself as the door to a sheepfold; we know, that we are to understand by the marriage supper, the faith and hopes of a Christian; by the vineyard, the Church and nation of the Jews; and by the door, that no one can enter into His kingdom, except by Him, and by His merits only. If we apply the same rule to the explanation of the present parable, it will appear, I think, that Christ, under the persons of the rich man and Lazarus, describes the dif ferent situations and prospects of the heathens, or Gentiles, and the Jews.
The professor of the Jewish law was clothed in purple and fine linen, was full of the ostentation and outward show of good works, and fasting, and ceremonies, in which the formal and superstitious Pharisees relied for salvation, on their own merits. "He fared sumptuously every day :" - he had the spiritual food of the law, and the prophets, in abundance; and (like the angel of the Church of Laodicea, mentioned in the book of Revelations) he said that he was rich, and increased with goods, and had need of nothing; and knew not, that, in the eyes of God, he was "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.'
1 Rev. iii. 17.
To this pride and confidence in their own spiritual privileges, which distinguished the Jewish Pharisee, is strongly and beautifully opposed the helpless outcast state of the Gentile world; who had no merits of their own, or of their forefathers, to plead; no spiritual food; no holy Scriptures; no prophets, to teach or comfort them and who desired to be fed even with the crumbs, (this very expression had been used by the poor Canaanitish woman, whose daughter was tormented with a devil',) with the very crumbs, or smallest part of that abundance of spiritual knowledge, with which God had blessed the Jews. He was laid at the rich man's gate; for the Gentiles were not allowed to go beyond the gate of the Temple: but were, in common language, considered as unclean, and hardly fit company for the dogs of Israel. He was covered with sores; that is, with the corruptions of unreclaimed nature; and with those hideous sins, which ignorance of God's law increased, and rendered almost incurable.
This may seem a sad and strange contrast: but the picture is not overcharged — of the spiritual blessings, with which the Jews were favoured; to whom was the law; and from whom the prophets came; who had the first promise of the kingdom; and to whom the Gospel was first offered; - and of the helpless