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COMMENTS ON LUKE 16:19-31.

BROTHER JEWETT: - After so long delay, I in conformity with the request of yourself and another, will now give you my views of that portion of Scripture contained in Luke 16:19-31.

This passage is, I believe, very generally understood to be a parable spoken by our Lord. The parables spoken by him are of different kinds; some are figurative illustrations, the figures being borrowed from natural things, of things spiritual and pertaining to the gospel and church of Christ; others seem only designed to enforce some important truth. The former class is known by being prefaced with such expressions as, The kingdom of heaven is like, &c. These expressions to me convey the idea, not only that the parable relates to the Gospel and things pertaining to it, but also that there is a likeness in the figure to the thing represented; as in the parable of the marriage of the king’s son. Matt.22:1-14. Some brethren, however, understand certain parables thus prefaced, as having special reference to the Jews; as those found in Matt.25:1-30. But, from the fact that the term, kingdom of heaven, is so manifestly used to denote the gospel church or dispensation, distinctively from the Jewish, the one about coming in, the other about being removed; the one heavenly, the other earthly; {see the 12 commissioned, Matt.10:7, “As ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand,”} I cannot think, that we can apply the parables thus designated by our Lord, to the Jews as such, without doing violence to his words.

But the parable about to be considered is not said to be like the kingdom of heaven; I therefore consider it to be one of those used to enforce some important truth. Others however make it a figurative representation, and think they find a correspondency to the figure, by making the rich man represent the Jews, and Lazarus the Gentiles, &c.; but I find no authority in the parable or its connection for to so understand it. I therefore believe the design of the parable is primarily to enforce the truth contained in the last verse, in reference to the Jews, that “if they believed not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Christ had before spoken of that people as a wicked and adulterous generation, seeking after a sign, and had said, “There shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas,” &c. Matt.12:39,40, and Luke 11:29,30. And now by this parable he shows, that even that sign shall fail, so long as they believe not the testimony of Moses and the prophets. It 2ndly shows the important fact in every age, that so long as men believe not the testimony of Moses and the Prophets, concerning Christ and concerning themselves, they do not and cannot in truth believe the gospel. Christ’s words on another occasion, are, “If ye believe not his {Moses} writings, how can ye believe my words.” John 5:47.

But while I believe such to be the design of this passage, I do contend, that it is in itself a parable in distinction from the idea of a fable; that is, that the figure contains nothing inconsistent with the nature and order of things; nothing which might not be truly matter of fact. I cannot think of charging our Lord with using fabulous representations, when the Holy Ghost has through the apostles so fully cautioned the saints against turning to fables, giving heed to fables, &c. We have then, besides the general instruction designed by the parable, the following ideas presented by it as general truths: 1st. That the souls of the dead, both of the wicked and the righteous still have a distinct and active existence, either in a state of torment or of happiness. 2nd. The ministration of angels in reference to the dead. And 3rd. That the wicked still retain, after death, their ignorant, arminian notions. To these general heads, we shall endeavor distinctly to attend.

First. That the souls of the dead, both of the wicked and the righteous, still have a distinct and active existence, the one in a state of torment, the other in a state of happiness.

This position presents the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, independent of the spiritual life communicated to it in Regeneration; a doctrine which I understand to be denied by some in your region, and is, I see, denied by one writer in the PREDESTINARIAN BAPTIST, the No. for June 1st, pg. 117, 118. It seems to have been extensively supposed, that the burden of proof, relative to the immortality of the soul, must be borne by the advocates of that sentiment. This is a gross mistake; it involves a requisition to prove a negative, as I shall show. The scriptures do not take that ground. I shall lay down this position, controvert it who can; that we have no authority for believing anything that God in his providence has not made evident to the faculties of man, nor declared in the Scriptures. We believe that man’s body is material, both because the Scriptures declare, that God made man of the dust of the earth, and speak of him as flesh, &c., and also because it is demonstrable to our natural senses. We know this fact. And those of us who believe in God, believe that he so made man. We all know, that man is mortal, that he is subject to death, and his body to become decomposed. How do we know it? Is it because we have, with vain philosophers, discovered that there is a natural necessity in matter to corrupt, and therefore that the nature of man was to be mortal? Or in other words, that we have discovered a defect in God’s creating power, that he could not make matter incorruptible, or a necessary liability in God to change, to bring things into existence, and then bring them to destruction? No; the truth is, God never gave to proud man the opportunity to discover such defect in His creating power, or a natural necessity for man’s mortality. God permitted man to offend, and sin to enter the world, for an infinitely wise purpose; and to illustrate the true nature of sin, and to punish man for his transgression, God gave him, the created lord of this world, and all his dominions up to its corrupting influence and effects. The sentence was passed, “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, &c., cursed is the ground for thy sake &c., for dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return.” The whole history of man’s mortality and of the world with all its changes from that day to this, is but the effect of the brief sentence’s being carried out, which God passed upon man, upon the woman, and the serpent. Gen.3:14-19. And the gospel of Christ alone develops the gracious purpose of God in permitting this corrupter to enter his creation. What then was left for man to discover in this matter? So far from the Scriptures leaving it to be correctly inferred, that the dissolution of man, and of nature is the effect of a deficiency in God’s creating power, they in reference to the dissolution of the old world, represent it as the effect of repentance {figuratively,} in God. Gen.6:6. That is, God is here represented as turning about and exerting the same power to sweep man from the earth, which he had put forth in creating and sustaining him upon it; just as man would do, if he repented of any work he had made. Not that there was any change in the mind or purpose of God. So much for man as made of the dust of the ground. Is the soul material also, was it made of the dust of the ground ? If so, then it is evidently subject to the same sentence, Dust thou art &c. If not, then it requires proof direct to believe it subject to that sentence. But have we a soul or spirit distinct from animal life? Yes, we know we have an existence within us called a living soul. 1st. Because the Scriptures declare, that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Gen.2:7. 2nd. Because we are conscious of its existence. We know it is not matter, because we cannot bring it to the test of any of our natural senses. We can neither taste, smell nor see it; neither can we hear or feel it, as we do the wind. Yet we know it is within us; an intelligent something which can think &c., a something which remains active whilst our natural senses are locked up in sleep. Besides it was the breath of God. It must therefore be a spiritual existence. We know that it exists, and that its existence is from God; what authority can we then have that it will ever cease to exist, unless God has declared his purpose, that it shall so cease, or we can prove that it necessarily must cease to exist? Have we any Scriptural testimony that the soul is mortal? None. Sensible evidence we of course have none, because we cannot bring it to the test of our senses. Have we an inward consciousness, that the soul will die with the body? How stands this point, you that deny the immortality of the soul? Have not some of the most hardened infidels given evidence in death of a consciousness of an existence beyond death? Upon what authority then does the declamation rest, that the soul which we know exists, and exists from God, will cease to exist? There is no authority, either Scriptural, or rational for it. As rational beings we are then bound to reject it, till proof is brought to sustain it. But again, what is the mortality or death of the body? It is not annihilation; annihilation is not a doctrine of the Bible. Death is a cessation of animal life, and an ultimate decomposition of the particles of matter, of which it was formed, or a returning to its original element, dust. Will the advocate for soul mortality, contend that the souls of wicked persons at death become decomposed and return with all their depravity to their native element, the breath of God? I think not.

The Scriptures I admit contain this sentence, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ez.18: 4 & 20. But the term soul is evidently used in these, as in many other texts of Scripture, to denote personality or individuality. The import is the same as if it had been said, The individual that sinneth he shall die. There is another sense in which the Scriptures, as I understand them, speak of a death which has passed upon man, in which both soul and body are involved. “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” was the decree. “Dead in trespasses and sins,” is the declaration of the decree having taken effect, whilst the individuals still retain a conscious existence both of body and soul. I do not understand this death to be a loss of any spiritual life which man originally had. But it is an extinction of that uprightness in which man was created, a sinking under the curse of God’s law, and a dissolution of everything in him tending to his happiness, whilst he remains alive to everything sinful and tending to misery.

The writer in the PREDESTINARIAN BAPTIST, already referred to, has made a discovery which rather surpasses any made by philosophers going before. It is this, “If man was wholly natural in creation, then of necessity he was wholly mortal, nothing immortal about him.” Whether he here by mistake used the word natural for material and meant thereby to convey the idea, that the breath of God, which he breathed into man, was matter, and of course, that the soul is something, which can be handled; or whether he used the word according to its proper meaning, and intended to convey the idea, that if man was wholly what God made him, then of necessity he was wholly mortal, &c., I cannot say. But it is astonishing to what extremities men, and even good men, will run, when they undertake to be wise above what is written. God expressly declares in his word that sin made man mortal, “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned;” and “as sin hath reigned unto death.” Rom.5:12,21. And yet this writer has the presumption to say, that from necessity man was wholly mortal in his original creation; that is, that God from necessity so made him. He has also some wonderful discoveries, as to how it was, that man became capable of transgressing God’s law, different from anything which the Holy Ghost has told us on the subject, in the Scriptures. But as I would prefer depending on what God has revealed, to trusting to his discoveries, I will leave him.

I have already said, the Scriptures do not take the ground of those, who suppose the burden of proof lies on the advocates for the immortality of the soul. God has declared that the soul was produced by him, and has made its existence manifest to every man; he has never declared his purpose again to take it out of existence, it would therefore have been something like supererogation for the Holy Ghost to have given express declarations in the Scriptures, that the soul will not cease to exist. But at the same time, whenever the Scriptures speak of the soul in connection with the death of the body; its language is such, as corresponds only with the idea of its separate existence after the death of the body. Thus in the case of Rachel, Gen.35:18, her dying is expressed by her soul’s departing, not by its ceasing to exist. In the case of the son of the widow of Zarephath, Elijah prayed unto God, not to give the child a new soul, nor to revive his old one, but that his soul might come into him again; and we are told that, “The soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.” I Kings 17:21,22. Again, Christ, cautioning his disciples against the fear of man, says, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, &c.” Matt.10:28. Does he not here clearly teach that the soul is not subject to the same death, to be killed as the body is? It may be said that, Christ spoke this to his disciples. True he did; but it is equally evident that he said it not in reference to their regeneration, but spake to them as men, because he immediately speaks of God’s being able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Besides it is expressly of the soul, and not of spiritual life that he speaks. Passing other texts which may be supposed to relate to the persons as saints, I will come to the case of the rich man in the parable under consideration. The rich man died and was buried, and yet in hell he lifted up his eyes &c., and he saw and knew Abraham and Lazarus afar off. Of course his rationality, his soul still existed in its full vigor and he was conscious of existence. As evidenced by preceding remarks, I do not understand this parable as designed to reveal the immortality of the soul, but I understand Christ as employing such ideas in his figure, as were familiar to his hearers, and such as he himself endorsed; for certainly none can think that the blessed Jesus would convey ideas, which in themselves were false. In this view of the parable, it fully sustains the doctrine of the immortality of the souls of the wicked, because it only accords with such doctrine.

In reference to the terms used to denote the locality of these souls; the expression Abraham’s bosom, is a Jewish phrase, and appears designed more to convey the idea of the happy state of such souls, as partaking, as his spiritual seed, in the blessings of Abraham; than to designate any particular locality. The place where the rich man lifted up his eyes, in the translation called hell, in the Greek Ades, or Hades, in Hebrew Sheol, seems by its general use in Scripture designed not so much to denote the final place of everlasting punishment, as a general receptacle of souls after death. The Greek and Hebrew words denote a secret, hidden place. According to the parable, as according to any notion we can have of the happiness of departed saints, the location of Lazarus is impassably separated from the place of misery. In accordance with this idea of Hades, or hell, both death and hell are represented as giving up their dead, when the final judgment, or judgment of those, who have not a part in the first resurrection, takes place. Rev.20:12-14.

The other two leading ideas in the parable, marked for notice, will necessarily have to be deferred for another communication. And although, when I commenced this, I designed expressing my views fully on them, yet circumstances, which have since transpired, have led me to conclude, that I, perhaps, may as well just let them pass with only the brief notice above taken of them.

I subscribe myself affectionately,
S.TROTT.
July 22, 1842.