Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

the latter assertion, we must implicitly deny the former. The parable of the Unjust Steward, with which the chapter commences, and which, we shall shew, is intimately connected with the parable before us, is thus introduced—“And He said also (de) unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man”"Ανθρωπός τις ην πλούσιος ; for we must not confine ourselves to the Authorized Version and Archbishop Trench, as Mr. Flower, it seems, would have us do. But what is the opening clause of our own parable ? "Ανθρωπος δέ τις ην πλούσιος- the same sentence as before, with the addition of the connecting particle . Surely we are not to be robbed of this important word—a word having far more force here in the course of a conversation than in such an introductory phrase as that given above. By whomsoever the discourse in this chapter was uttered, we could scarcely require a stronger link of verbal connection than that which is here afforded us. May we not then enquire whether the most remarkable omission,” which Mr. Flower ascribes to the Evangelist, be not his own ?

We must here proceed to point out the logical connection between this parable and the context, and to shew that it has an immediate and obvious application to the topic upon which our Lord was engaged—a feat which is declared by our opponent to be impossible. To render our position clearer, we have recourse to a few details of time and place.

Our Saviour was now in Peræa, beyond the Jordan, in the territory of the crafty and dissolute tetrarch, Herod Antipas, who had put away the daughter of Aretas, and was living in a doubly adulterous intercourse with Herodias, his brother's wife. Also, in every probability, the message had already come from the sorrowing sisters in the little hamlet of Bethany, telling Jesus that their brother, whom He loved, was sick. Two days, we are told, He abode where he was. And to that period we refer the incidents before us. They were days when the mind of “the Resurrection and the Life" must have been filled with thoughts of the mighty deed He was about to achieve, and when the name of Lazarus, “God is my help,”c would rise almost spontaneously to His lips. Publicans and sinners in great numbers had come together to hear the words of Jesus, and had

c

a Stier, Die Reden des Herrn Jesu, in loc. dwells on this important point.

• On the order of events at this period of our Lord's ministry, there are some good remarks in Wieseler, Chronologische Synopse der vier Evangelien, p. 321, and in the sixth of Bishop Ellicott's Hulsean Lectures.

• This would, certainly, seem to be the more correct meaning of " Lazarus ” than that of "helpless," given by Theophylactus and others. There is an appropriateness both about the signification and the circumstances which fully accounts for the presence of the name in this parable.

[ocr errors]

cry,

excited the murmurings of the proud and malicious Pharisees (xv. 1, 2). Our Lord addressed to them the three parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Piece of Silver, and the Prodigal Son. The design of these parables is self-evident. Then, turning to the disciples, He spake to them the parable of the Unjust Steward, while the Pharisees stood by and listened (verse 14). The primary object of that remarkable discourse was to impress upon His followers the all-importance of the exercise of charity. By a strong example of worldly wisdom, they were urged to make a fit and faithful use of the good things entrusted to them by God. The mammon of this unrighteous world night be so employed as to secure a joyous reception into the everlasting habitations of the world to come. But the Pharisees, who, we are here expressly told, “were covetous," derided Him. And their character it is most important to bear in mind. They hid their love of mammon under an outward shew of zeal for the law. They would devote property to the service of the Temple; but only because it was due to another, and they could redeem it afterwards by a smaller payment. Before harvest they would

It is Corban;" but only that they might deprive the poor of his corner. Most bitterly does our Lord reprove them. We may thus slightly paraphrase His next words "Ye are they

: – -“ which justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men—that external religion which you use as a 'cloak of covetousness,' and for the neglect of which you term these men sinners—that is abomination in the sight of God. Truly, the law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God, the new dispensation, is preached, and every man presseth into it, even these law-slighting publicans and sinners. But do not think that I am come to destroy the law; as I told you before,

Y I am not come to destroy but to fulfil, to make it more strict, more spiritual. Do you want an example? Then listen : Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery."

Scarcely could our Lord have selected a stronger example than this one, perhaps suggested, as Tertullian' remarked, by His presence within the tetrarchy of Herod. Divorce was the fertile subject of dispute between the rival Rabbinical schools of Hillel and Schammai, both of whom were Pharisees; and was

“This covetous evasion of their vows by the Pharisees is constantly shewn in the Mishna. See examples in Lightfoot, Horæ Hebraicæ, passim, and Jahn, Archæolog. Bib., 8 392 sq.

Adver. Marcion., iv. 34. There may also have been in the mention of John some connection with his fate by the hand of Herod and in that very neighbourhood.

craftily brought for decision before our Saviour on a separate occasion, in order to embroil Him with one party or the other. The vast majority of these Pharisees, like the historian Josephus, upheld the laxer view of Hillel, who would permit divorce for “every cause in which the wife was displeasing to her husband.f These Jesus condemns in terms which must have ranked Him among the very strictest interpreters of the law.

And, surely, now the connection with our parable is sufficiently plain. The reproof is over; the discourse proceeds; for further lessons have to be taught. There are His own disciples ; there are the despised publicans and sinners-Lazarus, God is their help;—there are the Pharisees, trusting for salvation to their being children of “Father Abraham," like Dives, highly esteemed among men; not outwardly sinners, but covetous; not caring for the poor, not hearing “Moses and the Prophets." With a force which we cannot now conceive must the words of the Lord Jesus have come home to those actors in the scene, as He opened His parable—“There was also (Sé) a certain rich man.” He had exhorted His disciples to use this world's goods to the promotion of their heavenly interests. He now passes on to the world of spirits, and shews to all the terrible consequences of misusing them.

The several portions of this chapter, then, are no disjecta membra,as German rationalism long ago tried to make us believe; no pieces thrown together at hap-hazard by the Evangelist. We must be endowed with a strange obliquity of vision, if we cannot discern the relation between them; or we must look through the same distorting medium of which a Strauss, a Sepp, and a De Wette have made use, when they examined this or any other portion of the Word of God. There is one key-note which sounds throughout all our Saviour's harmonies, one golden thread which, like a line of light, runs throughout His every teaching. Had we missed it here, we might have paused. But never did it shine forth more clearly. It is charity-charity in its largest, noblest, most Christ-like sense—that which

“Shall stand before the host of heaven confest,

For ever blessing and for ever blest.” We have dwelt somewhat at length on this point, because it is the groundwork of the answer to most other objections. Indeed, it affords an immediate reply to Mr. Flower's next question—“What heavenly and spiritual truth is to be learned from this parable ?” He declares there is none which is consistent

I Compare Mishna in Gattin, cap. 9, 10: “If the wife, by any stroke from the hand of God, become dumb or sottish; if she cook her husband's food illy, by oversalting or overroasting it, she is to be put away."

a

with our Lord's usual teaching. We have pointed out the main lesson of the parable, that which, above all others, was consistent with His usual teaching—the inculcation of that love from man to man of which the Pharisees had so strongly shewn their want, and the warning that as the right use of riches will help men on their road to heaven, so their abuse will secure them a place in hell.

If Mr. Flower does not join the Tübingen School and Straussi in asserting that our Lord taught the Ebionitish doctrine of compensation, he does much the same thing; for he accuses the author of this parable of teaching it. The parable is as far as possible from pointing out that poverty will be rewarded and riches punished in the next world, apart from all moral desert. It is not "entirely silent on the subject of the moral condition” of the rich man. He could not have been “one of the most excellent of mankind ;” he did not live as “ rich men usually do live,” nor, thank God," as every prince, or prelate, or nobleman was, and is accustomed to live.” For what more powerful description could be given of his selfish state and want of love? What stronger indictment could be brought against him than this ? A poor man, diseased, starving, imploring to be fed with the scraps from his table, one for whom even the dogs cared,” lay at his very gate. But love was quenched by sensual indulgence. He passed him by, despised and neglected him. The beggar received none of his good things." Again, Lazarus is evidently only a secondary character in the scene, only “a foil to the rich man." But the name introduced in such a marked and unique manner by our Lord into this parable, the great probability that the Redeemer's thoughts rested on that Lazarus who even now was in “ Abraham's bosom,” the humble silence of the sufferer himself—all point to one who, having endured with meekness in this world, shall receive the better things of the hereafter.

These are no deductions but simple statements of the language of the parable. We are unable to discover here any nicely balanced law of compensation. Retribution to those who have not used aright the talents committed to them, is indeed solemnly pointed out, as it is again and again by our blessed Lord.

8. Strauss was well answered on this point by Neander in his Das Leben Jesu Christi.

h This is one of those little graphic touches so frequent in our Lord's parables. The brute nature of the dog rose above the brutalized nature of the rich man.

We might with equal justice object to our Lord's words in Luke vi. 24: “Woe unto you that are rich; for ye have received your consolation," and those passages which speak of the impossibility of the rich man entering into heav Are we to cut all these out of our Bibles ?

We must also take exception to Mr. Flower's gratuitous assumption, that when Abraham calls to the remembrance of the rich man his former state, he is merely alleging "a reason for refusing his request,” and a reason for the difference in the conditions of the two. It was not becausethe rich man had received good things that he was in the place of torments, but because he had misused them, had made them his alone. Before his mind's eye was brought that pleasant field of the world where he had sown the seed of which he was now reaping the bitter fruit.

It was but natural for heretics and impugners of the Word in all ages to seize upon the fact that our Lord in this parable took His hearers, as it were, into the realms of the dead. Rarely does He raise the veil which, in His mercy, yet hides the scenes of our after state of being. It was not for Him, like the founder of the Muslim creed, to excite or terrify His followers with sensual pictures of the future world. But it was for Him to draw them into the blessed steps of His most holy life, that hereafter they might be one with Him. And thus where a more profound lesson is to be taught, He does not hesitate to speak of those mysteries in words as full of comfort as they are of warning. Are we to reject all such passages ? Are we, with a Renan and a Strauss, to banish from the Scripture pages every trace of the supernatural world, and to see in the revealed Gospel nothing but the material conceptions of a man? Shall we not rather examine carefully what led to the utterance of these the deeper things of God, and take home the lesson to our hearts? As we have shewn before, when contrasting the two parables, the scene of the exhortation was laid in this world; for the warning, the border line must be crossed and the spectator carried to those realms where, if the exhortation and the warning he neglected, the fearful transformation will take place. And let us not forget that there rose before the mind of our Saviour that Lazarus who was even now in the unknown shadow land; that there stood before Him those covetous Pharisees who heard not Moses and the Prophets, and who failed to be persuaded even when “one rose from the dead.”

A consideration of the peculiar terms used by our Lord in this parable-- terms so strictly in accordance with the prevailing language of Jewish eschatology-and a comparison with other

a

As Mr. Flower spends a good deal of time in combating Archbishop Trench on the point, we may observe that to teach the necessity of a belief in Moses and the Prophets was certainly not the primary object of the parable. Indirectly and secondarily unbelief was rebuked; because a want of faith is the cause of all evil, whether under the old dispensation or the new.

« PreviousContinue »