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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Luke 16

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 16:1. And he also, &c. — To give a further check to the maliciousness of the Pharisees, and the obstinacy with which they opposed every thing that was good, he delivered, while they were still present, the parable of the crafty steward, whom he proposed as an example of the dexterous improvement which worldly men make of such opportunities and advantages as fall in their way for advancing their interest. By this parable, Jesus designed to excite his disciples to improve, in like manner, the advantages they might enjoy for advancing their own spiritual welfare; and particularly to spend their time and money in promoting the conversion of sinners, which, of all the offices in their power, was the most acceptable to God, and the most beneficial to man. He said also to his disciples — Not only to the scribes and Pharisees, to whom he had been hitherto speaking, but to all the younger as well as the elder brethren, to the returning prodigals, who were now his disciples. A certain rich man had a steward — To whom the care of his family, and all his domestic concerns, were committed: Christ here teaches all that are now in favour with God, particularly pardoned penitents, to behave wisely in what is committed to their trust. And the same was accused unto him, &c. — Some of the family, who had a real concern for their lord’s interest, observing the steward to be both profuse in his distributions, and negligent in taking care of the provisions of the family, thought fit to inform their lord, that he was wasting his goods. Dr. Whitby quotes Rab. D. Kimchi, on Isaiah 40:21, commenting as follows, “The fruits of the earth are like a table spread in a house; the owner of this house is God; man in this world is, as it were, the steward of the house, into whose hands his Lord hath delivered all his riches; if he behave himself well, he will find favour in the eyes of his Lord; if ill, he will remove him from his stewardship.” And thus, adds the doctor, “the scope of this parable seems to be this: that we are to look upon ourselves, not as lords of the good things of this life, so as to get and use them at our pleasure, but only as stewards, who must be faithful in the administration of them.”


Verses 2-4

Luke 16:2-4. And he called him, and said, How is it that I hear this of thee — His lord, having called him, told him what was laid to his charge; and as he did not pretend to deny the accusation, he ordered him to give in his accounts, because he was determined he should occupy his office no longer. Then the steward said, What shall I do? — The steward, having heard his doom pronounced, began to consider with himself, how he should be supported when he was discarded. He was of a disposition so prodigal, that he had laid up nothing; he thought himself incapable of bodily labour, (being old, perhaps,) or could not submit to it, and to beg he was ashamed. He was not, however, as appears from what follows, ashamed to cheat! This was likewise, says Mr. Wesley, a sense of honour! “By men called honour, but by angels, pride.” I am resolved what to do — So he said within himself after a little consideration; a lucky thought, as he doubtless accounted it, coming into his mind. He was not yet turned out of his office; he therefore resolved to use his power in such a manner as to make himself friends, who would succour him in his need. That they may receive me into their houses — That the tenants or debtors of his lord, who paid their rents or debts, not in money, but in wheat, oil, or other produce of the ground they rented or possessed, might give him entertainment in their houses, or provide for him some other means of subsistence.


Verses 5-7

Luke 16:5-7. So he called, &c. — In pursuance of this scheme he sent for all those of his lord’s debtors whom he could hope to oblige by so fraudulent a proposal, determining to lower the several articles in his book, which stood chargeable to the account of each of them: and said to the first, How much owest thou — How much hast thou agreed to pay for the rent of the ground thou occupiest, or of how much hast thou acknowledged the receipt? And he said, A hundred measures of oil — The word βατους, here rendered measures, is evidently derived from the Hebrew בתים, which we render baths, in the Old Testament. According to Bishop Cumberland, a bath contained about seven gallons two quarts and half a pint. And he said, Take thy bill σου το γραμμα, thy writing; the writing in which thou hast promised the payment of so many baths as rent, or in which thou hast acknowledged the receipt of so many. The writing, whatever it was, was doubtless of the obligatory kind, and probably in the hand-writing of the tenant, or debtor, who thereby bound himself to pay these baths, and was signed by the steward, who here ordered him to alter, or write it over again, and make himself liable to pay only fifty, instead of a hundred. The word κορους, rendered measures, in the next verse, is the כור, or homer, of the Hebrews, containing about eight bushels and a half, standard measure. The twenty homers which he allowed the debtors to deduct, would contain one hundred and seventy bushels of wheat, and might be as valuable as fifty baths, or three hundred and seventy-eight gallons of oil; so that the obligation conferred on both those debtors might be equal.


Verse 8-9

Luke 16:8-9. And the lord — Rather, his lord, or master, for it is Jesus, and not the evangelist, who speaks this, as is plain from both the structure of the parable itself, and from the application which Jesus makes of it in the next verse; commended the unjust steward, because he had acted wisely — Or, prudently for himself, as φρωνιμως here signifies. Properly, indeed, his master commended neither the actor nor the action; but solely the provident care about his future interest which the action displayed; a care worthy the imitation of those who have in view a nobler futurity, eternal life. And the commendation is here mentioned by our Lord, merely in order that he might recommend that precaution to our imitation. For, though the dishonesty of such a servant was detestable, yet his foresight, care, and contrivance about the interests of this life, deserve to be imitated by us, with regard to the more important concerns of another. For the children of this world — Those who seek no other portion than the things of this world; are wiser than the children of light — Not absolutely, for they are, one and all, egregious fools, and must be accounted such by all who believe there is a life to come, a life of unspeakable and eternal happiness or misery; but they are more consistent with themselves; they are truer to their principles; they more steadily pursue their end; they are wiser in their generation: that is, in their own way, and for this present life, than the children of God are, with respect to the life that is future and eternal. The latter, though enlightened by God to see where their true happiness lies, seldom appear so thoughtful and active in the great concerns of religion, as worldly men are in pursuit of the momentary and precarious possessions of this world. Make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness — Be good stewards even of the lowest talents wherewith God hath intrusted you, and particularly of your property. Make yourselves friends of this, by doing all possible good with it, particularly to the children of God. Mammon means riches, or money, which is here termed mammon of unrighteousness, or of deceit, or unfaithfulness, as αδικιας may be rendered, because of the manner in which it is either used or employed; or on account of its being so apt to fail the expectation of the owners; in which view it is opposed to true riches: Luke 16:11. The phrase is plainly a Hebraism, as οικονομος της αδικιας, steward of unrighteousness, or unfaithfulness, Luke 16:8; and, κριτης της αδικιας, judge of unrighteousness, Luke 18:6, which two last expressions our translators have, with perfect fidelity, changed into the unjust steward, and the unjust judge: if they had taken the same liberty in many other places: they would have made the Scriptures plainer than they now appear to be to an English reader. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge here, that “nothing can be more contrary to the whole genius of the Christian religion, than to imagine that our Lord would exhort men to lay out their ill-gotten goods in works of charity, when justice so evidently required they should make restitution to the utmost of their abilities.” That when ye fail — When your flesh and heart fail; when this earthly tabernacle is dissolved, those of them who are gone before, may receive, may welcome you into everlasting habitations — And you may for ever enjoy the reward of your pious charity and love, in the friendship of all those truly worthy persons who have been relieved by it. Or, this expression, they may receive you, may be a mere Hebraism for, ye shall be received, namely, by God, if you make a right use of his gifts. Here, as it were, our Lord, with great propriety, suggests the thoughts of death as an antidote against covetousness, an unreasonable passion, to which, however, many on the very borders of the grave are wretchedly enslaved. Upon the whole, the true scope of this parable is, to teach those who have their views extended to eternity, to be as active and prudent in their schemes for the life to come as the children of this world are for the present; and particularly to do all the good to others in their power; a duty highly incumbent on those especially whose business it is to reclaim sinners, not only because sinners are in themselves fit objects of charity, as well as saints, but because charitable offices done to them, may have a happy tendency to promote their conversion. “That this was the lesson which Jesus designed particularly to inculcate by this parable, is evident from the application of it; and his advice therein is worthy of the most serious attention; the best use we can make of our riches being undoubtedly to employ them in promoting the salvation of others. For if we use our abilities and interest in bringing sinners to God, if we spend our money in this excellent service, we shall conciliate the good-will of all heavenly beings, who greatly rejoice at the conversion of sinners, as was represented in the preceding parables; so that, with open arms, they will receive us into the mansions of felicity. And therefore, while self-seekers shall have their possessions, and honours, and estates torn from them, with the utmost reluctancy, at death, they who have devoted themselves, and all that they had, to the service of God, shall find their consumed estates to be greatly increased, and their neglected honours abundantly repaired, in the love and friendship of the inhabitants of heaven, and in the happiness of the world to come, and shall rejoice in having disposed of their wealth to such an advantage.” — Macknight.


Verses 10-12

Luke 16:10-12. He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much — Here our Lord proceeds in the application of the parable. As if he had said, Whether ye have more or less, see that ye be faithful as well as wise stewards: for if you make that use of your riches which I have been recommending, you shall be received into those everlasting habitations, where all the friends of goodness dwell, because, by your fidelity in managing the smallest trust of temporal advantages committed to your care, you show that you are capable of the much greater trust of spiritual and heavenly employments and enjoyments, things of a much higher nature. And he that is unjust in the least — He that useth these lowest gifts unfaithfully; is unjust also in much — Is likewise unfaithful in spiritual things. In other words, If you do not use your riches, and power, and other temporal advantages, for the glory of God, and the good of your fellow- creatures, you shall be excluded from the abodes of the blessed, because, by behaving unfaithfully in the small trust committed to you now, you render yourselves both unworthy and incapable of a share in the everlasting inheritance. For if ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous — Or rather, as the word here signifies, the false, the deceitful mammon — That is, in the use of your riches, and other temporal blessings, very properly called the false mammon, because they always deceive those who confide in them as the sovereign good; who will commit to your trust the true riches? — Spiritual and eternal blessings, which alone are true riches. “The word riches is substituted by our translators instead of mammon, which was the word Christ intended, and which, for that reason, should find its place in the translation of this verse. Mammon, coming from the Hebrew אמן, signifies whatever one is apt to confide in; and because men put their trust generally in external advantages, such as riches, authority, honour, power, knowledge, the word mammon is used to denote every thing of that kind, and particularly riches, by way of eminence.” — Macknight. See note on Matthew 6:24. And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s — The word man is not in the original, and is improperly supplied in the translation, for it is not man but God who is intended; to whom the riches, and other advantages in our possession, do properly belong; who has committed them to us only as stewards, to be laid out for the good of his family, and who may any moment call us to give an account of our management. Observe well, reader, none of these temporal things are ours; we are only stewards of them, not proprietors: God is the proprietor of all: he lodges them in our hands for a season, but still they are his property. “Rich men,” says a late writer, “understand and consider this! If your steward uses any part of your estate, (so called in the language of men,) any further, or any otherwise than you direct, he is a knave: he has neither conscience nor honour. Neither have you either the one or the other, if you use any part of that estate which is in truth God’s, not yours, any otherwise than he directs.” Who shall give you that which is your own — That which, when it is conferred upon you, shall be perpetually in your possession, shall be your own for ever. Our Lord’s meaning, therefore, is, “Since you have dared to be unfaithful in that which was only a trust committed to you by God for a short time, and of which you knew you were to give him an account, it is evident you are not fit to be intrusted by him with the riches of heaven; these being treasures which, if he bestowed them on you, would be so fully your own, that you should have them perpetually in your possession, and never be called to an account for your management of them.”


Verse 13

Luke 16:13. No servant can serve two masters — See note on Matthew 6:24. As if he had said, You cannot be faithful to God, if you trim between him and the world; if you do not serve him alone. Beware, therefore, of indulging, even in the least degree, the love of the world, for it is absolutely inconsistent with piety: “insomuch that a man may as well undertake, at one and the same time, to serve two masters of contrary dispositions and opposite interests, as pretend to please God while he is anxiously pursuing the world for its own sake. In this manner did Jesus recommend the true use of riches, power, knowledge, and the other advantages of the present life, from the consideration that they are not our own, but God’s; that they are only committed to us as stewards, to be employed for the honour of God and the good of men: that we are accountable to the proprietor for the use we make of them, who will reward or punish us accordingly; and that every degree of covetousness is such a serving of mammon as is really idolatrous, and altogether inconsistent with the duty we owe to God.” — Macknight.


Verse 14-15

Luke 16:14-15. The Pharisees, who were covetous — Of a very worldly spirit; heard all these things — Namely, concerning the true use of riches, and the impossibility of men’s serving God and mammon at the same time; and they derided him — As a visionary, who despised the riches, honours, and pleasures of life for no other reason but because he could not procure them. The original word, εξεμυκτηριζον, is very emphatical, signifying, they mocked him, by a scornful motion of the mouth and nose, as well as by what they spake to him. The word might properly be rendered, they sneered. “There was a gravity and dignity in our Lord’s discourse which, insolent as they were, would not permit them to laugh out; but by some scornful air they hinted to each other their mutual contempt.” — Doddridge. And he said, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men — By shunning the company of sinners, and your care of external appearances, you make specious pretences to extraordinary sanctity before the world, and you seldom fail to acquire a great reputation for it. Or, the meaning may be, You think yourselves righteous, and persuade others to think you so. But God knoweth your hearts — You cannot justify yourselves before him, who knows you to be so far from being righteous, that you are very wicked. For though you may have covered the foulness of your crimes with the painted cloak of hypocrisy, and by going about, thus adorned, have cheated those who look no further than the outside, into a high admiration of you, you cannot screen yourselves from the detection of God, whose eye penetrates through every covering, and who judges of things not by their appearances, but according to truth. For that which is highly esteemed among men, &c. — In consequence of which it comes to pass that he often abhors both men and things that are held in the highest estimation.


Verses 16-18

Luke 16:16-18. The law and the prophets were in force until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached — The gospel dispensation takes place, and humble, upright men, receive it with inexpressible earnestness. Dr. Whitby’s paraphrase on this passage shows its connection with the preceding paragraph, thus: “It is not to be wondered that you now hear from John and me higher precepts of charity and contempt of the world, than you find in the law or prophets, which moved you to your duty by promises of temporal blessings in the land of Canaan; since now the kingdom of heaven is preached, and every one that enters into it forces his way by breaking through the love of temporal concerns and sensual pleasures. For, to give you another instance (see Luke 16:18) of a like nature, whereas the law admitted of divorces at the pleasure of the husband, by reason of the hardness of your hearts, the gospel forbids this now on any other score than that of fornication, which, from the nature of the sin, dissolves the marriage. Yet, that you may not cavil at me as a dissolver of the law, I declare that all the moral precepts of it shall obtain and be of perpetual obligation under the gospel dispensation.” Every man presseth into it — The intention of this clause, says Dr. Campbell, “is manifestly to inform us, not how great the number was of those who entered into the kingdom of God, but what the manner was in which all who entered obtained admission. The import, therefore, is only, Every one who entereth it, entereth it by force. We know that during our Lord’s ministry, which was (as John’s also was) among the Jews, both his success, and that of the Baptist, were comparatively small. Christ’s flock was literally, even to the last, ποιμνιον μικρον, a very little flock. It was not till after he was lifted up upon the cross, that, according to his own prediction, he drew all men to him.” See on Matthew 11:12. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass — For the whole system of created nature to be destroyed, than for one tittle of the law to fail, or the least precept of it to be set aside as faulty. See note on Matthew 5:18. Whosoever putteth away his wife, &c. — And far from doing any thing to lessen or abate the force of it, I rather assert it in its utmost extent and spirituality, forbidding all divorces, except for the cause of adultery, and even looking on a woman so as to desire her. See on Matthew 5:28; Matthew 5:32.


Verse 19

Luke 16:19. There was a certain rich man, &c. — Our Lord, in the last paragraph, having exposed those parts of the character of the Pharisees which were most odious in the sight of God, and the roots from whence their other wickedness sprang, namely, their hypocrisy and worldly spirit, proceeds now sharply to rebuke their voluptuousness and love of pleasure, and set before them the consequences thereof in a most awakening parable, in which he unveils before their sight the rewards and punishments of the eternal world. It is the most alarming of all Christ’s parables, and the characters in it are drawn in such lively colours that many have been of opinion, in all ages of the church, that it is not a parable, but a real history. But the circumstances of the story are evidently parabolical, and some ancient MSS., particularly that of Beza, at Cambridge, have, at the beginning, — And he spake unto them another parable. It matters not much, however, to us, in the application of it, whether it be a parable or a real history, since the important truths contained in it are equally clear and equally certain, in whichever light it be considered. Which was clothed in purple and fine linen — And on that account, doubtless, was highly esteemed, and that not only by those who sold these articles, but by most that knew him, as encouraging trade, and acting according to his quality. And fared sumptuously every day — Taking care, not only to gratify his vanity by the finery and delicacy of his dress, but his palate also with the most exquisite meats which nature, assisted by art, could furnish: and consequently was esteemed yet more, for his generosity and hospitality in keeping so good a table. The original expression, ευφραινομενος καθημεραν λαμπρως, is very expressive, signifying that he feasted splendidly, or, delighted and cheered himself with luxury and splendour every day. His tables were loaded with the richest dainties, the most delicate wines delighted his taste, and all things ministering to sensuality were plentifully provided. Who so blessed as he? for every day this same delight returned; every day presented a new scene of bliss.


Verse 20-21

Luke 16:20-21. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus — According to the Greek pronunciation; or Eliazar, according to the Hebrew; a name very proper for a person in such a condition, signifying, the help of God; or if, as some think, the word be derived from לא עזר, lo azer, a helpless person. Which was laid at his gate full of sores — He was so diseased and decrepit that he could not go himself to the rich man’s gate, but he was carried by some compassionate hand or other, and laid there; he was so naked that his ulcers lay uncovered and exposed to the weather; and so poor, that he desired to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. This expression, επιθυμων χορτασθηναι απο των ψιχιων, as Dr. Campbell observes, does not afford any foundation for supposing that he was refused the crumbs, the word επιθυμων, rendered desiring, not implying so much in the Scriptural use of it, and the other circumstances of the story not being consistent with such an opinion. For when the historian says, that he was laid at the rich man’s gate, he means not, surely, that he was once there, but that he was usually so placed, which would not probably have happened if he had got nothing at all by being laid there. The other circumstances concur in heightening the probability. Such are, the rich man’s immediately knowing him; his asking that he might be made the instrument of the relief wanted; to which may be added, that, though the patriarch upbraids the rich man with the carelessness and luxury in which he lived, he says not a word of inhumanity; yet, if we consider Lazarus as having experienced it so recently, it could hardly, on this occasion, have failed to be taken notice of. Can we suppose that Abraham, in the charge he brought against him, would have mentioned only the things of the least moment, and omitted those of the greatest? “Much injury,” adds the doctor, “has been done to our Saviour’s instructions, by the ill-judged endeavours of some expositors to improve and strengthen them. Many, dissatisfied with the simplicity of this parable, as related by the evangelist, and desirous, one would think, to vindicate the character of the Judge from the charge of excessive severity, in the condemnation of the rich man, load that wretched sinner with all the crimes which can blacken human nature, and for which they have no authority from the words of inspiration. They will have him to have been a glutton and a drunkard, rapacious and unjust, cruel and hard-hearted, one who spent in intemperance what he had acquired by extortion and fraud. Now, I must be allowed to remark that, by so doing, they totally pervert the design of this most instructive lesson, which is, to admonish us, not that a monster of wickedness, who has, as it were, devoted his life to the service of Satan, shall be punished in the other world; but that the man, who, though not chargeable with doing much ill, does little or no good, and lives, though not perhaps an intemperate, a sensual life; who, careless about the situation of others, exists only for the gratification of himself, the indulgence of his own appetites, and his own vanity, shall not escape punishment. It is to show the danger of living in the neglect of duties, though not chargeable with the commission of crimes; and particularly the danger of considering the gifts of Providence as our own property, and not as a trust from our Creator, to be employed in his service, and for which we are accountable to him. These appear to be the reasons for which our Lord has here shown the evil of a life, which, so far from being universally detested, is at this day but too much admired, envied, and imitated.” Thus also Henry: “It is not said that the rich man abused Lazarus, forbid him his gate, or did him any harm; but it is intimated that he slighted him, was under no concern for him, took no care about him. Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself, and was presented to him at his own gate. The poor man had a good character, and a good carriage, and every thing that could recommend him. A little thing done for him would have been considered as a great kindness; and yet the rich man took no cognizance of his case; did not order him to be taken in and lodged in his barn, or one of his outbuildings, but let him lie there. Observe, reader, it is not sufficient not to oppress and trample upon the poor: we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them. The reason given for the most fearful doom is, I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat. I wonder how those rich people, that have read the gospel of Christ, and say they believe it, can be so unconcerned, as they often are, in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted.” Moreover — Or rather, yea even, as αλλα και should be rendered, (for the circumstance is undoubtedly mentioned as an aggravation of the poor man’s distress,) the dogs came and licked his sores — In this manner did Lazarus, a child of God, and an heir of heaven, laid at the rich man’s gate, drag out an afflicted life, pining away with hunger, and cold, and painful disease; while the great man within, though a child of wrath, and an heir of hell, spent every day in the highest luxury of dress and table: the former, according to the opinion of the world, being a remarkable instance of the greatest misery, and the other of the most consummate felicity.


Verse 22

Luke 16:22. And it came to pass — In a little time; that the beggar died — Worn out with hunger, and pain, and want of all things; and was carried by angels (amazing change of the scene!) into Abraham’s bosom — So the Jews styled paradise; the place or state where the souls of good men remain from death to the resurrection. The expression alludes to the way of representing the felicities of heaven, by sharing a magnificent banquet with Abraham and the other patriarchs; (see Matthew 8:11; Luke 22:30;) and nothing could better describe the honour and happiness of Lazarus, who had lain in so wretched a condition before the rich man’s gate, than telling us that he was placed next to Abraham, and so, as the Jews expressed themselves, lay in his bosom, John 13:23. The rich man also died — For death knocks with equal boldness at the sumptuous mansion of the rich, or even at the palace of the prince, and at the cottage of the peasant. This rich man’s purple and fine linen, and his faring sumptuously every day, could not keep death from him: nay, probably these things served to hasten its approach: for various diseases, and even those of a very dreadful and tormenting kind, are frequently the certain consequences of luxury and high living. And was buried — Doubtless with pomp enough, though we do not read of his lying in state: that stupid, senseless pageantry, that shocking insult on a poor putrifying carcass, was reserved for our enlightened age! We read nothing of poor Lazarus’s funeral: and indeed, this is one advantage which the rich have over the poor, their wealth will provide for them a costly funeral! Their clay-cold corpse shall be enclosed in a coffin covered with velvet, many mourners shall be hired to put on a melancholy aspect, a cloak for a glad heart, and horses decked with nodding plumes, shall bear their wretched remains to the cold, senseless tomb! But alas! what is all this pomp to the soul, which, the moment it leaves the body, enters on an eternal scene of bliss or wo! Nay, and even before it leaves it, has views and feelings very different, according to the difference of the state it finds itself to be in, and the apprehensions of coming misery, or expectations of approaching happiness which it entertains. How great was the difference in these respects between the feelings of the rich man and those of Lazarus, when on the verge of eternity! the approach of death being very terrible to the former, while the latter descried the goal with inexpressible joy. And from the moment of their departure, how utterly were all things respecting them reversed! the beggar, being a pious man, finds himself, after being wafted by guardian angels through the unknown regions, laid in Abraham’s bosom; whereas the man that was in high life, having probably always pleased himself with the thought that there would be no future state, is amazed beyond what can be expressed, when he finds himself plunged in the torments of hell.


Verse 23

Luke 16:23. And in hell εν τω αδη, in hades; that is, in the unseen, or invisible world. It must be observed, that both the rich man and Lazarus were in hades, though in different regions of it: he lifted up his eyes, being in torments — Our Saviour adapts this circumstance of the parable, says Lightfoot, to the popular opinion of the Jews. The rabbins say, that the place of torment and paradise are so situated, that what is done in the one may be seen from the other. “Because the opinions, as well as the language, of the Greeks,” says Dr. Macknight, “had by this time made their way into Judea, some imagine that our Lord had their fictions about the abodes of departed souls in his eye when he formed this parable: but the argument is not conclusive. At the same time it must be acknowledged, that his descriptions of those things are not drawn from the writings of the Old Testament; but have a remarkable affinity to the descriptions which the Grecian poets have given of them. They, as well as our Lord, represent the abodes of the blessed as lying contiguous to the regions of the damned, and separated only by a great impassable river, or deep gulf, in such a sort that the ghosts could talk with one another from its opposite banks. In the parable, souls, whose bodies were buried, know each other, and converse together, as if they had been imbodied. In like manner, the Pagans introduce departed souls talking together, and represent them as having pains and pleasures analogous to what we feel in this life. It seems, they thought the shades [spirits] of the dead had an exact resemblance to their bodies. The parable says, the souls of wicked men are tormented in flames; the Grecian mythologists tell us they lie in a river of fire, where they suffer the same torments they would have suffered while alive had their bodies been burned.” It will not, however, at all follow from these resemblances, that the parable is formed on the Grecian mythology, or that our Lord approved of what the common people thought or spake concerning those matters, agreeably to the notions and language of the Greeks. “In parabolical discourses provided the doctrines inculcated are strictly true, the terms in which they are inculcated may be such as are most familiar to the ears of mankind, and the images made use of such as they are best acquainted with.” What we are here taught with certainty is, that as the souls of the faithful, immediately after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; so, unholy and unsanctified souls, immediately after they are forced from the pleasures of the flesh by death, are in misery and torment, ceaseless, remediless, and endless torment, to be much increased and completed at the general resurrection. And seeth Abraham afar off — And yet knew him at that distance; and shall not Abraham’s children, when they are together in paradise, know each other? and Lazarus in his bosom — Having a view of the seats of the blessed at a distance, the first object that he beheld was Lazarus, the beggar, (who had so often been laid naked, and hungry, and covered with sores, at his gate,) sitting next to Abraham, in the chief place of felicity. In consequence of which, doubtless, the stings of his conscience were greatly multiplied, and he was racked with envy and self-accusing reproaches.


Verse 24-25

Luke 16:24-25. He cried, Father Abraham, have mercy on me — Being in an agony of pain, by reason of the flames, and the anguish felt in his conscience, he cried to Abraham to take pity on him, his son, and send Lazarus to give him, if it were but the very least degree of relief, by dipping the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue, for his torment was intolerable. Abraham might have replied, Thou art not my son, I disown thee; what has become of thy purple and fine linen, thy perfumes, thy feastings, thy dancings? Where are thy delicious wines, now that thou art so earnestly begging a drop of water to cool thy tongue? Instead of thy stately palace, thou art shut up in hell; instead of pleasure, thou art filled with pain; instead of music and mirth, nothing is heard but wailing and gnashing of teeth. No: such speeches, however just, would not have been suitable to the humanity of blessed Abraham; for which reason that good patriarch did not so much as put this wicked man in mind of his ill-spent life; only, being to justify God for having made so sudden and so remarkable a change in his state, he called him his son, and spake of his past debauched way of living in the softest manner possible, showing us the sweet disposition of the blessed in heaven. It cannot be denied, that there is one precedent here in Scripture, of praying to a departed saint: but who is he that prays? and with what success? Will any one who considers this be inclined to imitate him? And Abraham said, Son — That is, according to the flesh; remember, &c. — Is it not worthy of observation, that Abraham will not revile, even a damned soul? And shall living men revile one another? That thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things — He bade him consider, that in his lifetime he chose and accepted of worldly things, as his good, his happiness, despising heaven, and valuing, and seeking nothing but the riches, pleasures, and honours of earth. And can any be at a loss then to know why he was in torments? This damnable idolatry, had there been nothing else, was enough to sink him to the nethermost hell. But Abraham further intimates to him, that having enjoyed the good things of this world in the greatest perfection, he could not think it hard if, by the sentence of God, in the open violation of whose laws he had lived, especially of the great law enjoining sincere and fervent love to God and man, he was deprived of that heaven, and of those spiritual and eternal blessings, which he had always despised. And likewise Lazarus evil things — He reminded him that Lazarus, on the other hand, had borne the miseries of life with patience, had trusted in God, and looked forward to a better state: but now he is comforted — His afflictions are all brought to an end, and he is refreshed with eternal joys, which know neither hunger, nor cold, nor pain. He who had no house in which to hide his head, is now a free citizen, and blessed inhabitant of heaven: immortal joys and everlasting love refresh his soul, who lately desired the crumbs from thy table. Glory is his splendid robe for ever, health and gladness attend him always, who was covered only with sores and ulcers upon earth; and he is delighted with the sweet society of God, of angels, and of all the saints, whom no man regarded upon earth, and whose sores the dogs licked, more compassionate than his fellow-creatures. And thou art tormented — Instead of thy purple robe and fine linen, thou art invested with a robe of fiery flame: instead of sumptuous fare, art fed with bitter tears, and gnawed continually by a condemning conscience; instead of thy past elegancies and comforts, nothing but torment and anguish surrounds thee. Observe well, reader, it is not the merely being in a state of poverty and affliction on the one hand, or of wealth, affluence, and ease on the other, that causes this difference in the future conditions of men, that in itself saves or destroys their souls: but it is the right or wrong use of either state. When a man considers the good things of this life as his chief good; when his heart is taken up by them, and he is so intent on the gaining, the retaining, the increasing, or the enjoyment of them, as to neglect making his peace with God, and giving his heart to him in holy love, and his life in uniform obedience; or, when he makes his riches the instruments of pride, luxury, and uncharitableness; of impiety toward God, and inhumanity toward his fellow-creatures; — then he so receives his good things here as to give up all right to the good things hereafter; and having been here comforted by the enjoyment of temporal goods, will hereafter be tormented by the suffering of eternal evils. “For,” as an able writer well observes, and as is intimated in the note on Luke 16:21, “our Lord’s principal view in this discourse most evidently was, to warn men of the danger of that worldly- mindedness, neglect of religion, and devotedness to pleasure and profit, which is not so much any one vice, as it is the foundation and source of all vices. It is that which makes men regardless of futurity, and not to have God in all their thoughts. It is that deceitfulness of riches, ambition, and voluptuousness, and the care of things temporal, which stifle all sense of religion, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”


Verses 26-29

Luke 16:26-29. Besides all this — As to the favour thou desirest from the hand of Lazarus, it is a thing impossible to be granted; for between us and you there is a great gulf fixed χασμα μεγα εστηρικται, a great chasm, or void, is established. Dr. Campbell renders the clause, There lieth a huge gulf betwixt us and you, so that they who would pass hence to you cannot. If any should be so compassionate as to desire to help you, they are not able: neither can they pass to us who would come thence — But we must still continue in an unapproachable distance from each other: the passage is for ever closed: the great gulf is for ever fixed: and whether a person be happy or miserable in a future state, each is unchangeable! Each, O solemn thought! each is eternal! Then he said, I pray that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house — The rich man, finding that nothing could be done for himself, and that his own case was irretrievable, began to be in pain about his relations. He had five brethren alive, who, it seems, were living in pride and luxury, and either entertaining the Sadducean opinion concerning a future state, or living in forgetfulness and neglect of it; therefore, that he might prevent their ruin, and, if possible, ease himself of the painful reflections which he felt for having been instrumental in corrupting them, he entreated Abraham to send Lazarus unto them, in hopes it would reclaim them: for he supposed, if those in paradise could not pass to those in torment, there might be a passage from paradise to the earth, as it was evident there was from the earth thither. By making this request, the man acknowledged both his own wickedness and the principle from which it proceeded: he had either disbelieved the doctrine of a future state, or had disregarded it, had set his affections on the present world, and chosen it for his portion; and by his example, at least, had seduced his brethren into the same destructive courses. That he may testify unto them The certain truth of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state of rewards and punishments, and the infinite importance thereof; lest they also come into this place of torment — He might justly fear lest their reproaches should add to his own misery. Abraham saith, They have Moses, &c. — Abraham replied, that they had the books of Moses and the prophets, from which they might learn the certainty and importance of these things, if they would be at the pains to read and consider them: let them hear them — Let them hearken to the warnings and instructions given them in those divine records, and they will have means sufficient to prevent their damnation.


Verse 30-31

Luke 16:30-31. And he said, Nay, father Abraham, &c. — He answered, that the writings of Moses and the prophets had proved ineffectual to himself, and he feared would be so to his brethren; but that they would certainly change their sentiments, and reform their lives, if one actually appeared to them from the dead. “It is uncertain,” says Dr. Macknight, “whether the rich man, by one from the dead, meant an apparition, or a resurrection. His words are capable of either sense: yet the quality of the persons to whom this messenger was to be sent, makes it more probable that he meant an apparition. For, without doubt, the character Josephus gives us of the Jews in high life, namely, that they were generally Sadducees, was applicable to those brethren; so that, disbelieving the existence of souls in a separate state, nothing more was necessary, in the opinion of their brother, to convince them, than that they should see a real apparition,” or spirit from the invisible world. And he said, If they hear not Moses, &c. — Abraham tells the rich man, that if they did not hearken to Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded to a thorough repentance and reformation, though a person should come back from the dead to visit them: for though such an event might indeed alarm them for a time, the same prejudices and lusts, which had led them to despise or disregard those methods of instruction which God had afforded them, would also lead them, ere long, to slight and neglect such an awful appearance as he desired they might see. If it be objected here, that Moses nowhere expressly asserts a future state of rewards and punishments, it may be replied, that the facts recorded by him strongly enforce the natural arguments in proof of it; and the prophets speak plainly of it in many places. Bishops Atterbury and Sherlock have shown clearly and fully the justness of Abraham’s assertion here, in their excellent discourses on this text, which well deserve the attentive perusal of every professor of Christianity.” The impenitence of many who saw another Lazarus raised from the dead, (John 11:46,) and the wickedness of the soldiers who were eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, and yet, that very day, suffered themselves to be hired to bear a false testimony against it, (Matthew 28:4; Matthew 28:15,) are most affecting and astonishing illustrations of this truth; for each of these miracles was far more convincing than such an appearance as is here referred to would have been.” — Doddridge. Certainly, if men be so immersed in vice and wickedness as to be inattentive to the evidences of a future state, which God has already afforded them by the inspired writings; or, if they be careless about such a state, they would, for the same reasons, reject all other means whatsoever, which God might make use of for their conviction and reformation. Reader, put thy own heart to the trial: dost thou really believe the awful representation of future things given in this parable by him who is ordained judge of the living and dead? Dost thou really believe that a life of sin and voluptuousness; of worldly-mindedness, love of pleasure, honour, or profit, will assuredly bring thy soul to the place of torment, where a drop of water is not to be had? If thou dost believe this, what madness is it to continue one moment in such a state, and to have less regard for thy own most precious soul, than a damned spirit had for the souls of his relations! But if thou believe not, what thinkest thou would persuade thee of the truth? Would it convince thee, were the request of the rich man on behalf of his brethren granted thee, and one came from the dead to testify to thee these dreadful truths? Do not mistake the matter: if thou dost not believe upon the abundant evidence already given, sufficient to convince any reasonable thinking man, whose eyes are not entirely blinded by worldly lusts and pleasures, neither wouldest thou be persuaded though a spirit came back from the dead to warn thee. Abraham assures the rich man, that if the writings of Moses and the prophets, though far less clear and explicit on the subject of a future state than the Scriptures of the New Testament, did not convince his brethren of the reality of it, they world not be persuaded though one rose from the dead; how much more, then, may we assert, that a person’s coming from the dead would not persuade those who resist the much greater evidence with which we are favoured since life and immortality have been brought to light by the gospel. If men regard not the public revelation, which has been confirmed by miracles, and the evident accomplishment of a variety of prophecies, neither would they be influenced by a private testimony given to themselves: for, 1st, A messenger from the dead could say no more than what is said in the Scriptures, nor say it with more authority. 2d, There would be much more reason to suspect an event of that kind to be a delusion than to suspect the Scriptures to be so; and those that are infidels in the one case would certainly be so in the other. 3d, The same strength of depravity that resists the convictions of the written word, would certainly triumph over those produced by a witness from the dead. 4th, The Scripture is now God’s ordinary way of making known his mind to us, and a way perfectly sufficient; and it would be presumption for us to prescribe any other; nor have we any ground to expect or pray for the grace of God to accompany or bless any other way, when that is rejected and set aside. Let us, then, not desire or look for any other, but be wise, and pay a greater deference than we have done to the exceeding goodness of our God, for having given us so clear a revelation of his will in the blessed Scriptures, and so plainly marked out before us the way to future felicity and glory! Let us well consider the foundation on which those Scriptures stand, and take them for our guide, assured that their authority is divine, and their instructions all- sufficient. From them let us, as reasonable men, as men peculiarly favoured with so inestimable a treasure from the great King of heaven; — from them let us weigh in the balance of true reason the gains of time and eternity: let us put into one scale the enjoyment of all our hearts could wish upon earth, and in the other the suffering of unutterable and everlasting misery: and how light will the scale of earthly happiness be to that of endless torment! Let us put into one scale the denial of all our evil affections, nay, and a life of poverty and suffering; and in the other the gain of everlasting felicity; and how light, how very light, will all the sufferings of time be to the exquisite joys and glories of eternity. See Dodd’s Discourses on the Miracles and Parables.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 16:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/luke-16.html. 1857.

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