Spiritual Meaning of
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THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.
There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham,, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they who would pass from here to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from there. Then he said, I pray you, therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham says to him, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said to him, If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the dead.
A certain rich man, in a restricted or historical sense, here designates the Jewish nation; but in a more extended or spiritual sense it means all who a re in possession of the knowledges of revealed truth, or the Word of God, and who are, therefore, said to be clothed in purple and fine linen; purple denoting more the good of that Word, and fine linen its truth; they are further described, as faring sumptuously every day, to denote that, on all occasions, they have the opportunity of incorporating into their lives those heavenly and eternal principles.
The beggar named Lazarus, in a restricted or historical sense, denotes the Gentiles, who are called beggars, because they were not in possession of the Eternal Truth, like the Jews; but in a more extended or spiritual sense, by the beggar, here mentioned, are to be understood all who are without the knowledge of revealed truth, and yet are in the desire of that knowledge. All these are said to be laid at the rich man's gate, because they are in the affection of truth, and desirous to enter into the possession of it: they are also described as being full of sores, inasmuch as being destitute of the Eternal Truth, they are infested with false principles and persuasions, which are in many cases contrary to the truth: they are again described as desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, since being in the affection or love of truth, they wish to be fed or nourished by it in all the virtues and graces of a pure and holy life. And, lastly, it is said of them, that the dogs came and licked their sores, to denote their association with those who, from a state of natural good, were desirous of preventing the perversion of truth, and thus of restoring them to the health and strength of divine life and order.
It is said in the parable, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.
Dying means removal from a natural state of life into a spiritual state of life; and being carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom means, introduction to eternal happiness in that state, for, by Abraham is here manifestly meant the Lord, as in other passages of the Sacred Scriptures; and by his bosom is therefore meant the divine love, with all the blessedness which it communicates. The beloved disciple John was therefore said to lie in the Lord's bosom, because he was principled in heavenly love and charity, and in all the good works to which they give birth.
The rich man dying, denotes his removal also from a natural state of life into a spiritual state of life; but inasmuch as, from the history of this rich man, it is manifest that he was principled in knowledge, but not in the life of knowledge, which is love and charity, therefore, it is said that he was buried, to denote that all his knowledge perished with him, this being the case with all those who have their understandings enlightened by the Eternal Truth, whilst their wills remain unpurified through a criminal neglect of the application of that truth to the purposes for which it was given. In the same view, it is written of the unfaithful servant, who had neglected to improve his talent, take from him the talent, and give it to him that has ten talents. It is added, that in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
By hell is to be understood a state of separation from everything that is wise and good, thus from the divine presence of the Most High; and by his lifting up his eyes in this state, being in torments, is further to be understood the man's thought or reflection about his state, in consequence of the misery and wretchedness in which he found himself. It is, therefore, added, that he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, to denote that he perceived his distance and separation from the Lord himself, signified by Abraham, and from all the consolations of his mercy and love, signified by Lazarus in his bosom.
But it is further written, that he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. It may be asked how the rich man's prayer for divine mercy can be reconciled with the fact of his continuing in torment, since it is reasonable to suppose that his prayer would be heard by the Father of Mercies, and that relief from torment would be afforded accordingly.
This difficulty can only be removed by supposing what seems to have been really the case, that the rich man's prayer, on this occasion, did not proceed from any good desire grounded in a sense of the divine love and mercy, but from his present torment, and that consequently it was the prayer of compulsion, not of freedom, and therefore could not be granted, since the Almighty is affected by no prayers, and hears none, but what proceed from perfect freedom, which freedom is the result of the operation of divine mercy and love in the penitent and obedient bosom.
The reason why the rich man petitions that Lazarus may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool his tongue, can only be seen from the consideration of what is here to be understood by water, and by cooling the tongue; from which it will be manifest, that by water is meant truth, which the rich man, in his life time, had been accustomed to pervert and falsify, and that this was the ground of his present petition, that he might still be allowed the satisfaction in which he had before indulged, of perverting and falsifying the truth, and thus of cooling his tongue. For by the tongue of this rich man is to be understood the power or faculty of thus perverting and falsifying all the knowledges of truth which he had admitted into his understanding, and since he was no longer permitted to exercise this power or faculty, therefore he says, I am tormented in this flame. By the flame, however, here spoken of, is not literally to be understood the flame arising from a common fire, as in this world, but the flame of this rich man's craving, which was nothing else but the infernal lust of continuing to pervert and falsify all heavenly truth, as he had been accustomed to do in the life of the body.
It is written, further, that Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.
The good things which the rich man is here said to have received, are not real good things, but apparent good things, or such as appeared good at the time to the man himself, on which account they are called your good things. For such is the difference between real good things and apparent good things, that the former are what man receives, not from himself merely, but from the Giver of all good, with whom also the receiver connects them, acknowledging them with gratitude to be the gifts of his mercy; whereas apparent good things are those which man separates from the Divine Giver, and thus calls his own, independent of the mercy from which he received them. The like is true of the evil things which Lazarus is said to have received, inasmuch as evil things, like good things, are both real and apparent; real evils being such as man brings upon himself by separating his love and affection, consequently his thoughts and persuasions, from the Source of all good, whilst apparent evil things are of an external nature, being such as are permitted of the Divine Providence to afflict even those who are in the real desire of turning away from all evil, and who, consequently, in the end, obtain deliverance from all evil. It is therefore added, now he is comforted, and you are tormented, to instruct us, that all who have received apparent evil things in the present life are admitted in the life after death to a participation and enjoyment of real goods; whilst they, who in the life of the body have received only apparent good things, are deprived of those blessings after separation from the body, and are plunged into real evil things, in consequence of a separation from all real good of heavenly love and life.
But Abraham adds, Beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they who would pass from here to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from there.
This great gulf describes the barrier of eternal separation between one kingdom and the other, which is of such a nature as to render it impossible for the inhabitants of the happy kingdom to become inhabitants of the miserable kingdom, and likewise for the inhabitants of the miserable kingdom to become inhabitants of the happy kingdom. This gulf, it is possible, may be passed by man during his abode in this world, and every man in reality does pass it according to the determination of his free-will, whether it incline to good or evil. But it is well to be considered and understood, that when man quits the terrestrial body and enters into the spiritual or eternal world, his lot is then irrevocably fixed, nor is it possible for him then to change the ruling love which he has acquired by the exercise of his freedom here below. It is, therefore, said, so that they who would pass from here to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from there, to instruct all mankind in this important truth, that the present life is allowed them for the purpose of fixing their eternal destination, and that every one, therefore, has it now in his power either to become a blessed angel, to live for ever happy amongst kindred angels, or to become a miserable infernal, to take up his eternal abode amongst the spirits of darkness.
It is further written of the rich man, that he said, I pray you, therefore, Father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that be may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
By the father's house and five brethren are to be understood, all those who are spiritually rich, or who abound in the knowledges of truth, but yet are in evil of life, in consequence of not applying those knowledges to the purifying purposes for which they were imparted.
It appears at first sight that the rich man, in this instance, was principled in good-will and charity, since he was desirous of preventing others from being exposed to the same misery with himself.
In reality, however, his petition was not grounded in charity, but in self-love, or a desire to prevent the increase of his own torment. For as in the kingdom of the blessed, every increase of its inhabitants is an addition to the bliss of each individual, so in the kingdom of the miserable there is reason to suppose that every increase of its inhabitants adds both to the general misery, and to that of every individual. On any other principle it is difficult to account for the anxiety here expressed by the rich man to prevent his brethren coming to the same place of torment with himself.
It is written, in the conclusion, that Abraham said to him, they have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one went to them from the dead, they would repent, And he said to him, if they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the dead.
We learn from these words that the revelation of the eternal truth in the Word of God is the only source of genuine faith, or of a right belief in God and in the great realities of His kingdom; and that if men do not suffer themselves to be persuaded by the evidence of truth itself, they will not be persuaded by any other evidence or testimony whatsoever. We learn, therefore, further, that it is a groundless imagination to suppose that men may be converted to a right faith and a corresponding life by visions, by miracles, or by any other extraordinary interposition whatsoever, since if a right faith and a corresponding life could be effected by these means, there is every reason to suppose that the Divine Mercy would not fail to apply them for that salutary purpose. We learn, therefore, lastly, that in order to effect our conversion to God, and our full belief in the realities of his kingdom, we ought to study well the pages of the eternal truth, which contain all possible fullness of evidence and demonstration.
This parable teaches us how great is the temptation to which we are exposed from the possession of riches, whether they be natural or spiritual, since, in either case, if they are not rightly applied, they may become injurious to our eternal happiness. Not that it is to be understood that a rich man, whether in a natural or spiritual view, is excluded from the kingdom of heaven, any more than a poor man, or that poverty is a surer introduction to heaven than riches. It is only to be understood that the abuse of riches, and especially of spiritual riches, which are the knowledges of truth, is in all cases, dangerous. We learn, therefore, especially from this parable, to be upon our guard in respect to the use of spiritual riches, that so we may always apply the knowledge of the eternal truth, which we have received, to the purposes of purification and real reformation of heart and life. Lastly, we are taught where to look for the proper evidence of things invisible, and that it is only to be found in the Word of God itself, or in the testimony ot the eternal truth. Let us resolve, therefore, from now on, no longer to abuse the knowledge which we have received, either by perversion or misapplication; and let us further resolve never to indulge the foolish imagination that our conversion may be worked either by visions, by signs, or even by miracles, but rather to look for that highest of all testimonies respecting the eternal world which God has vouchsafed to communicate in His Holy Word, and which, if rightly cherished in the understanding, in the will, and in the life, will not fail, finally, to produce an evidence amounting to demonstration. Amen.