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We are aware that it would grieve our brethren of the clergy of different denominations, to be deprived of the aid of this “story,” as Dr. Adam Clark calls it, which they have found so convenient, and so much to their purpose, in contributing to the eloquence of those terrible descriptions of wrath and ruin—fire and fiends, and undying tortures, which have been found to give such animation and effect to camp and protracted meetings; and without which, I fear it would not be uncharitable to suspect, that the religious zeal of many would abate more than half its fervor.
We proceed to notice the different descriptions given of the two men, in the parable under consideration. It commences by saying, 6 there was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.” This is the whole account that is given of this man's character and circumstances. It is obvious to remark, that he is charged with no crime, not even with a single impropriety; nor with the neglect of any one duty. Now, if our Saviour was about to set forth the certainty, and the endless duration of human misery, in a hell of fire in a future state, is it not very singular and unaccountable, that he should designate a person as a prominent subject of it, who, for any thing intimated to the contrary, was upright and inoffensive, and who, according to the account given, as we shall hereafter notice, may be presumed to have had, at least, some very good qualities?
True, it is said, the man was rich. But what of that? so was Abraham rich. God had blessed him greatly, and given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, &c. So was that noted counsellor rich, the excellent Joseph of Arimathea, who begged of Pilate the body of Jesus, that he might give it an honorable burial. To be rich,
is, in itself, no crime, nor is poverty a virtue. I am surprised at the manner in which the commentator, Dr. Adam Clark, comments upon this part of the parable, or story, as he calls it. He takes for granted that the death of this rich man, is to be understood, literally, a temporal death, the dissolution of the body. He also takes for granted, without inquiring why, or giving any reason for it, that the punishment he is represented as suffering, mast of necessity be in another world, after the death of the body. These things being assumed as facts, it would be natural to expect that some cause would be assigned for the fearful destiny to which this person was condemned. And accordingly, the commentator, in illustrating the case, goes on to notice, first his crime, and secondly, his punishment. In what, then, does the Doctor make his criminality to consist ?
Here we are obliged to wonder at the commentator's statement, which we apprehend is entirely groundless, and without the least authority. He says, “ His being rich, is, in Christ's account, the first part of his sin." This is a most singular assertion we confess, especially when he immediately after proceeds to say, “ To this circumstance our Lord adds nothing : he does not say, that he was born to a large estate, or that he acquired one by improper methods; or that he was haughty or insolent in the possession of it.” Wherein, then, we inquire, does it appear that he was criminal for having a large property? But our commentator goes on to say—“Yet here is the first degree of his reprobation, he got all he could, and kept all to himself.” There certainly is nothing in the account to warrant so uncharitable a declaration concerning him; but there are intimations, which go to oppose such a conclusion, and this the Doctor himself afterwards admits. He
"Our blessed Lord has not represented this man as a monster of inhumanity;" an uncharitable, hardhearted, unfeeling wretch. Of this, says he, “there is not a word spoken by Christ.” Furthermore, on remarking upon the circumstance of the beggar's desiring to be fed with the crumbs, which fell from the rich man's table, he says, “ And it is likely this desire was complied with; for it is not intimated that he spurned away the poor man from the gate, or that his suit was rejected.” Moreover, the commentator remarks, “ that as we find the rich man desired that Lazarus should be sent with a little water to him, it is a strong intimation, that he considered him under some kind of obligation to him ; for had he refused him a few crumbs in his lifetime, it is not reasonable to suppose that he would now have requested such a favor from him, nor does Abraham glance at any such uncharitable conduct on the part of the rich man."
Now how does this comport with the Doctor's language concerning him just before; when he represents him as a sordid, avaricious wretch, who, says he, “got all he could, and kept all to himself ?” Such inconsistencies always attend an attempt to establish a principle, which has not its foundation in truth.
There is another circumstance mentioned in the parable, to which the commentator has not alluded, but which strongly favors the idea that this man, so far from being sordid and avaricious in his wealth, was even benevolent and charitable ; and that this was his known and acknowledged character. The circumstance is this, that the beggar is said to have been “laid at his gate.” He is not represented as going and laying himself there, of his own accord; and he may be supposed, from his diseased condition, to have been
incapable of such an exertion. But he was laid at this rich man's gate-probably by his friends, and they certainly would have chosen to place him, where they had reason to believe he would be most favorably noticed.
Where would you, my hearers, direct, or place a needy friend of yours, whom you wished to assist in obtaining some charitable relief? Would you take him to the door of a notorious miser, whose detestable avarice had closed every avenue of his heart against the cries of the needy and desolate. Or, would you take him to the gate of one who, together with the ability, was known to possess the disposition to relieve the wretched, and to pity the woes of suffering humanity ? To the latter, no doubt. So this poor man, oppressed . with infirmity, covered with sores, and miserably destitute, was, by his friends, no doubt, laid at the gate of this rich man, because they had reason to believe he would there meet with compassion and kindness, and be fed, at least, with the crumbs of the table of that hospitable mansion. Every thing in the account, if taken literally, favors such a conclusion; for even the dogs, it would appear, had not been accustomed to drive travellers from this friendly gate, and therefore, discovering no signs of fierceness or rage, they came fawning round the meekly imploring sufferer, “ and licked his sores.'
I am surprised, therefore, that the above-nained critical commentator, in deseribing the character or the crime, as he calls it, of the rich man, should strangely, and most gratuitously assert, tha 66 in Chris account—the first part of his sin, was his being rich.”--that this was the “first degree of his reprobation, that he got all he could, and kept all to himself.”
But this rich man was clothed, says the parable, in purple and fine linen. I know not that there is any sin in wearing cloth of a certain fabric, or of a particular color and texture. But the abovenamed commentator says, concerning the rich man, that “our Lord lays this down, (that is, his wearing purple and fine linen)—as a second cause of his perdition.'" I remember that in Solomon's description of a virtuous woman, he says, “her household are clothed with scarlet,” and that her own clothing is “silk and purple,' and moreover, that—"she maketh fine linen, and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.” Lydia also, of Thyatira, who was “a worshipper of God, whose heart the Lord opened”-was a “seller of purple.” And furthermore, we find it was divinely directed, that the garments for the High-priest, under the law, should be, in part, of “purple and fine-twined linen."
To this circumstance, we may again have occasion to advert, in the course of our illustration of the parable. Dr. Clarke, in relation to the rich man, remarks, that “purple was a very precious and costly stuff; but, our Lord does not say, that in the use of it, he (the rich man,) exceeded the bounds of his income, nor of his rank in life; nor is it said that he used his superb dress to be an agent to his crimes, by corrupting the hearts of others.” Yet he says—“our Lord lays this down as a second cause of his perdition!” We wonder the Dr. did not go on to infer-which he certainly might have done with equal propriety—that it was very dangerous to the soul, to wear purple and fine linen !—and why he did not subjoin a caution to his readers against clothing themselves with garments of this description,