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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 24a

Dives and Lazarus

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Dives and Lazarus.

The above subject was advertised for discussion on the 24th of March, 1867, and evoked the following remarks [Luke xvi. 19-31]:—

The parable of Dives and Lazarus is one upon which much stress has been laid, as furnishing more precise particulars than ordinary as to the post mortem conditions of men;—as shewing not only that men will be rewarded, or the reverse, according to their deeds, but that they will possess organised bodies susceptible of the same feelings and functions as on earth. They see and converse at a distance, besides feeling the burning of thirst as well as of fire.

It may certainly be said, that considering the semi-savage life led by Abraham in a country almost deprived of water, his bosom would most probably be well seasoned to both dirt and vermin, and would form but an indifferent and unattractive paradise unless to persons of such habits as those of Lazarus. Still as the customs of the Jews in the days of Jesus, were probably but little improved from what they were when their leprous tribe was expelled from Egypt, their ideas of a paradise would be likely to be incomplete without those two adjuncts.

I wish however to call attention to what I consider much more remarkable features in the parable. The first is, the characters of the persons. It is a salient fact that Dives is nowhere said to have been either good or bad. His morality we are left to infer from data which appear to be not inadequate. In the first place Lazarus was left at his gate. Now it is wholly contrary to experience and probability to suppose that this selection was made without reason. It is not at the gates of the penurious or the hardhearted that the poor and miserable ask to be laid, but rather at those of the most compassionate and generous. Nor is there a hint throughout, that the latter was not the character of Dives. It is not stated that Lazarus did not receive, not only the crumbs, but also a fair share of the bounty of Dives; and the circumstance that he was not taken elsewhere to seek more liberal benefactors makes it still more probable. Again, page 10 when Dives was informed that relief for himself was impossible, his thoughts with ready affectionate solicitude fled to those dear ones whom he left on earth. Forgetful of his own sufferings, his thought is only for his five brethren, and he begs that Lazarus may be sent at least to warn them to avoid a similar fate. Everything in fact is calculated to convey the impression that Dives was exceptionally virtuous and charitable, rather than the reverse.

On the other hand there is not a word to lead us to believe that Lazarus was virtuous, but rather the contrary. We hear not a word of his adding his request to that of Dives to be permitted to relieve his sufferings or to warn his brethren—not a word of sympathy, commiseration or gratitude. Though comfortably esconced in Abraham's bosom, he had not a thought to bestow upon the pitiable case of him whose gratuitous charity he had once been glad to implore, and accept.

But if there seems reason to suspect from negative evidence, that the change in their relative positions was not due to the difference between their moral characters, the positive proof of this is furnished by Abraham himself. In the 25th verse the mystery is explained without the slightest disguise. Dives was tormented, not because he was uncharitable, but because he was rich; and Lazarus was comforted not because he was virtuous, but because he was poor—he had received his evil things. And for corroboration of this view we are not restricted to this parable. The New Testament teems with texts to the same effect. The sermon on the mount promises heaven and happiness—not to the virtuous, but to the miserable.* "Blessed are ye poor (not ye virtuous and charitable), for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that weep, for ye shall laugh. But woe unto you that are rich (irrespective of virtue) for ye have received your consolation."

The whole story is calculated to convey the impression, that physical compensation was to be made, wholly irrespective of moral conduet. And the natural consequences of these principles appears in Acts ii. 40-5, where it is reported that they that believed had all things common. They sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men. Again, in Acts iv. 32, "Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. Hence we see that the true key to the whole is simply communism, and page 11 communism of the lowest type, the object being to take from the rich and transfer to the poor; which was always the principle of the Christian Church until it has succeeded in reversing its relative position. Then, however, history relates that, until its power was broken by the dissemination of knowledge and the progress of material civilisation, the Christian Church practised the very opposite rule of taking from the poor to increase their own excessive hoards. And by the text they were justified! But what awful blasphemy is involved in the deliberate attribution to an omnipotent God of Justice, that men are to be blessed or punished irrespective of their moral character! Well might Solomon exclaim, "Give me neither poverty nor riches!" if a slight tendency towards either must be compensated by an excessive and everlasting reverse! Altogether a more immoral lesson was never taught, nor the distinction between virtue and vice, good and evil, more carefully ignored and annihilated.

There is, however, one other striking and instructive passage in this parable; one which exhibits such a gigantic stultification and absurdity, as to damn for ever the pretensions of the record to respect or credibilitiy; still more to the character of inspiration. See the 31st verse—"And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither mill they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" And this is put into the mouth of Jesus! One who, according to the Gospels, specially came to rise from the dead for the particular purpose of convincing those mho mould not hear Moses and the prophets, is here made deliberately to assert the utter futility of such a mission! If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead! The force of stultification and self-contradiction can no further go.

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* Luke vi. 20