Page images

the only motive assigned in the parable, as inducing him to such solicitude.

5th, All know, or at least ought to know, that the. imagery, or the language of parables, was never intended to be interpreted literally. This every sensible commentator allows to be correct in interpreting other parables. Why then interpret the language of the one before us literally? A parable, like a fable, is designed to impress on the mind, in a pleasing manner, some important truth. What man in his. senses ever supposed that the language of a fable was, intended to be interpreted literally? It is the moral lesson to be taught, which is of any importance, and the fable is only a pleasing mode of inculcating the moral. Great care, we think, is necessary in interpreting parables; and the utmost caution should be observed, in reasoning from them, to establish any particular doctrine of Christianity. The occasion of ihem ought to be strictly attended to, and the object the writer had in view by them. Without this, parables may be made to ieach any thing, and every thing, as fancy may dictate.

Perhaps it may be asked what then is the important truth our Lord intended to teach by this parable?” This I think may be learned from verse 31st.. -" If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." The parable was spoken to the unbelieving Jews, who enjoyed the writings of Moses and the prophets. They, as a people, owned such persons to be sent of God. If their writings did not persuade that wicked generation to believe, and turn from their evil ways, one sent from the dead would not effect these things in them. Such a person could come with no greater authority, nor give them any more assurance of the truth of God, than they had from Moses and the prophets. Jesus, who spoke this parable, did

rise from the dead, and abundant evidence of this was given them; but as a nation, the Jews still remained in unbelief, and were as little persuaded by this, as they were by Moses and the prophets. Is there any thing then surprising, that in this parable our Lord should introduce the popular idea, which the Jews had imbibed about punishment in Hades, when by it he was teaching them, that, if they did not believe Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe though one rose from the dead? It was only availing himself of their popular belief, to show them the obstinacy of their unbelief. It was taking them on their own received principles, to give the more effect to the parable spoken to them. This mode of teaching and reasoning has been adopted in all ages, and was used by our Lord on various occasions.

6th, If the language of this parable must be interpreted literally, we urge that the following, among Other texts which speak about Sheol, be also interpreted literally. See Ezek. xxxii. and xxxi. 15—18. Isai. siv. 3—24. Sheol and Hades are only the Greek and Hebrew names for the same place. We ask then, why the parable before us must be literally interpreted, and not these passages also? Certainly they have as righteous a claim, as it, to a literal interpretation. The difficulties to be encountered here, are neither small nor frw; but they must be surmounted, before we can admit, that this parable was designed to teach a state of torment in Hades. I shall simply hint at a few of those difficulties, stated in these texts.-Persons are mentioned as speaking out of the midst of Sheol or hell. The graves of persons are there represented as about them, and that they lie there uncircumcised, slain by the sword. They have gone down to hell with their weapons of war, and laid ibeir swords under their heads. Hell from beneath, is also represented as moved to meet the king of Babylon

at his coming. All the dead are stirred up for him, and all the kings of the nations, are raised "up from their thrones, in hell, at his arrival. They address him, saying, "art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?” The worms there are said to cover bim. When it can be proved that all these things take place in hell, we shall admit this parable to be a literal account of torment in Hades. Until this is done, such passages must prove an insurmountable difficulty in the way of establishing the doctrine of future misery from it. Certainly these passages have much more the appearance of a narrative of facts, than the parable we are now considering.

7th, We do not suppose that it will be doubted that this account of the rich man is a parable. If so, we beg leave to ask, why a parable, in which Hades is once mentioned, must be so very differently understood, from all other texts where the same place is mentioned? This is a solitary exception to all the other texts where Hades or Sheol.occurs in the Old or New Testament. If Hades, the same as Sheol, be indeed a place of torment, how could it be said, "that there is no knowledge, nor device, nor wisdom” in this place? Was the rich man tormented in the flame of Hades, yet had no knowledge of it? We have seen from the last section, that Sheol is always represented as a place of silence and insensibility, except in places where figurative descriptions are given of it. If this place had become a place of torment in the days of our Lord, it is very evident that it was not known as such in the days of Moses and the prophets. We ask then, at what period it became a place of torment? And did the wicked in those days suffer any punishment there? For all good and bad went to Sheol. To understand Hades then in this parable, lo signify a place of actual torment, would be at

variance with the uniform usage of both these words throughout the Bible.

We have seen in a quotation from Whitby on the last passage, that the idea of Hades being a place of punishment after death, was derived from the heathen. Now I admit, that to this heathen notion our Lord might allude in the parable before us. The Jews had, in our Lord's day, imbibed many heathen notions, and this one among the rest. But it is one thing for a sacred writer to allude to, or even speak according to the language of the popular opinions of the day, and quite another to recognise these opinions as truth. 'i'o illustrate what I mean by an example or two: Our Lord says, “ye cannot serve God and mammon." But who would infer from this, that he meant to recognise the God mammon? Again ; Paul says, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you." But was any man to conclude from this that Paul believ-. ed in the doctrine of witchcraft, he would certainly draw a very wrong inference from his words. I might illustrate this by many more examples. But, instead of referring to other examples in Scripture, I shall take one or two from our own every-day language. A person says, such a one has St. Anthony's fire, and another has St. Vitus' dance. But does any one think that this person meant that these saints had any influence in producing these disorders? I presume not. Supposing such statements to be printed in some medical work, and this book to be read eighteen hundred years hence-were they to infer that medical men in ihese days believed such saints were the agents who produced such diseases-can any man believe, that ihey understood the language of this book correctly, or formed a just idea of the science or the common sense of medical men among us ? No; I venture to say, that neither a quack nor a clown is to be found so ignorant, who would not smile at such gross mis.

apprehension. If we would then understand the Scriptures correctly, we must ascertain by all the means in our power, what is there delivered as truths and sacts to be believed on God's authority, and what are mere allusions to popular opinions. The man who has not yet learned the importance of this distinction in studying his Bible, has overlooked one very essential rule of Scripture interpretation.- In further proof that the Jews in our Lord's day had imbibed many heathen notions, and among the rest, that Ha. des was a place of rewards and punishments, I might here quote Dr. Campbell on this very parable. But the quotation will be more appropriately introduced when we come to consider the word Tartarus, also rendered hell in the common version. See the next section.

8th, We have seen that the Old Testament represents persons as speaking out of Sheol or hell, and that conversations were held there. But we presume no one ever thought this a reality, but a poetical license, or a mere figurative description. But in this parable a dialogue takes place between the rich man and Abraham. The rich man is in torment, and this is believed to be a fact, yet the very dialogue, part of which is about this torment, is believed to be a fiction. Such as believe so, are bound to assign reasons why they take such liberties in their interpretations of the divine oracles. “We have insisted that the parable ougbt to be either interpreted literally throughout, or this literal interpretation of a part abandoned. It must be allowed, we think, that ihis is a rational and fair way of interpreting the Bible. Supposing that the rich man's being in tornient, is no more to be interpreted literally, than the dialogue said to have taken place between him and Abraham. Yea, let us understand Hades here to signify the grave or state of the dead. All that is said in the parable, is in

« PreviousContinue »