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Abraham replied to the rich man's request, that the difference of the situations in which he and Lazarus were, was occasioned by what had happened to them both on earth. Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things. Remember! Had he remembered on earth, he would not have been called to remember in hell. It is for want of remembering that people perish. They must not be reminded of death: such topics must be carefully excluded from conversation, lest they should induce melancholy. Thus they are forgotten till the remembrance returns in hell. Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things. He was not to blame for being rich, for wealth honestly gained is God's gift: but he valued those things more than any thing spiritual. He called them his good things. Abraham in answer to the rich man's request that Lazarus might come to him, said, that there was no passing from heaven to hell, or from hell to heaven: If there had been, Abraham would have prayed for him. Hence we may learn that to pray for the dead is useless. God has given us life as a time of probation and trial, and the scripture always grounds his exhortations to diligence on this, that the night of death cometh when no man can work;* and that whatever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with all our might; because there is no work, nor device, nor counsel in the grave whither we go;t and that at the day of judgment we shall
* John ix, 4.
Eccl. ix, 10.
receive according to the things done in the body: no reference being made to the things we do or suffer in a separate state, while our bodies are lying in the grave.
The rich man finding his first request could not be complied with, begged that he would send Lazarus to his father's house, and to his five brethren, lest they also should come to the same place of torment. This is remarkable. While on earth, he only thought of his pleasure or interest, and did not think it worth his while to be at much pains about his own soul, and much less that of others: but now he is of another mind, and is sensible that if his brethren, who lived in the same neglect as he did, knew what hell is, they would take more care. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. They have already abundant warning; let them make use of that. The rich man replies. Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent; to which he answered, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. By Moses and the prophets is meant, the Old Testament. They would not be persuaded: that is, to forsake their sins and turn to God, though one rose from the dead-though one should go either from heaven, where they see the torments of the damned; or from hell, where they feel them.
It is this point that we propose to illustrate. The warnings of God's word are more adapted
to bring sinners to repentance, than the rising of one from the dead. Sinners are disposed to think that if they had ever seen hell, or had seen a person who had felt it, they would forsake all their sins, and do all they could to escape it: But as they are only told of it in the Bible, they often think it may be a mere delusion and fancy. But sinful men know not what they would have. They are fixedly averse to break off their sins by righteousness, therefore to excuse themselves they object against the sufficiency of their means. But God, who knows our nature and circumstances, knows what is most adapted to us. He who made the faculties of our souls, knows what will have the tendency to affect them. In contriving and appointing the means of our salvation, he chooses better for us than we should ourselves.
If a person were to rise from the dead, and give a particular account of what he had seen, he would probably frighten many who are not terrified by reading the Bible. It would very much affect them, on account of the novelty of the thing. Men are apt to be much affected by strange things, and to be much affrighted at spectres in the dark, because they are unusual; but if they were as common as preaching is, they would lose their effect. On such an unusual occasion as the rising of one from the dead, men might perhaps reform their lives, and would never forget what they had seen. But we are to consider which would have the greater tendency to awaken us if both alike
were new and unusual: to be warned by the great God himself, or by a man coming from the invisible world. It is in this view that we shall consider the matter, and we shall she w what advantages the former mode has above the latter.
1. God knows better what the punishment of sinners is, than departed souls. He is every where present with his all-seeing eye. He pervades all space. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there!* He is present there, where they feel the misery; and he sees into the innermost recesses of the hearts of those miserable spirits he sees all the anguish there, for he upholds them in being. They and all their powers are in his hands. Besides, it is his wrath which they endure; he measures out to them their several portions. His anger is that fire in which they are tormented. He therefore is certainly able to give as clear and distinct an account of hell as the miserable inhabitants of it. He too knows alone what eternity is.
2. We have the truth on surer grounds through God's testimony, than from the testimony of one rising from the dead. In the latter case, we should be uncertain whether there were not some delusion. We know that it is impossible for God to lie, and that things must be precisely as he declares them to us. But if one should rise from the dead, we could not
* Ps. cxxxix, 8.
be so sure that we were no way imposed upon, and that he himself was not subject to
some delusion-we could not be so sure that his account was not exaggerated. Moreover, such a one could not convince us that we should come to that place of torment if we did not repent and reform. And though more witnesses than one should come, there is no authority equal to that of God. There is no testimony from the invisible world so indisputable and unquestionable as the divine testimony. How could we know that they had not come to deceive us? How could we know upon what views they acted? Whereas we have the strongest ground of assurance that the first Being, and fountain of all being and perfection, is nothing but light and truth itself, and therefore he cannot deceive, or be deceived.
3. The warnings of God's word have the advantage on account of the greatness and majesty of him who speaks. The declarations of those who are great, excellent, or honorable, have a more powerful tendency to move the heart, than of those who are not so. Things spoken by a king affect more than the same things delivered by an equal. But God is the King of kings. Shall we be unmoved when the universal Sovereign speaks? Hear now: the prophet summons the whole creation to attend when God speaks. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken!*
* Is. i, 2.