14 August, 2016

Luke 16:27-28—“I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send [Lazarus] to my father's house: For I have five brethren”

Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment (Luke 16:27-28 KJV).

"The rich man, in this passage, expresses pity and compassion towards his fellow neighbours. Surely, if it were not for common grace, this man would show himself to be a devil and a beast, and would never have any pity towards other men like this."


Prof. Herman Hanko

A Seemingly Good Request

At first glance, it may appear as if the request of the rich man is a good request and puts him in a favourable light.

The rich man’s brothers evidently live the same kind of a life as their rich brother, who is now in hell. They, too, are natural children of Abraham brought up in the sphere of the covenant. They, too, are undoubtedly wealthy, highly esteemed by men, and praised for their deeds. They receive the plaudits of their fellow Jews for their faithful observance of the law and their strict adherence to the precepts of Moses. But within their wicked hearts they also are vain and arrogant, hypocritical and self-righteous, afflicters of the poor and despisers of the humble. Their sin is, no less than their brother’s, the sin of covetousness and the service of mammon. They are men who make their bellies their gods.

Besides, their lives had been closely intertwined with the life of their departed brother. They evidently know of Lazarus, who had been laid at the gate. The request of the rich man in hell seems to presuppose that if Lazarus returns, they will recognize him. They know the kind of life their brother had lived, and they enjoy that life themselves. They rest in the false and carnal security that their brother has gone on to glory and that they will surely follow.

The request of the rich man seems to be filled with genuine concern for his brothers’ well-being. He appears to have accepted his own lot. He does not deny the justice of his being in hell; nor does he trouble Abraham further about a drop of water, once that request is denied. His thoughts appear now to have turned to his brothers. And he seems to want to spare them the fate that has come to him. He sees that they will surely come to hell where he is because they live the same kind of life that he had lived. He does not want them in hell but in heaven, if at all possible. He therefore considers the possibility of doing something to warn them of the consequences of their life so that they will repent. The way to do this, he is convinced, is to send Lazarus back to them to tell them what lies beyond the grave, both in heaven and in hell. He is sure that, if this is done, they will repent of their sins and escape the torment of everlasting fire. One may conclude that the rich man has a genuine concern for the salvation of his brothers.

If we adopt such an interpretation of the rich man’s request, however, we will also be forced to adopt the conclusion that there is good even in hell. Evidently, the fire of hell has a purifying effect. The torments of hell purge a man of sin and bring about in him a degree of holiness. These torments set about correcting a man’s faults, so that granted a long enough stay in hell, a man will become good.

But this position is impossible to maintain. The wicked in hell are eternally wicked. There is no good in hell. It is true, of course, that in the suffering of everlasting desolation there is no more opportunity to do evil either, because the hands of the wicked are tied and their mouths are stopped. They are totally absorbed in their dreadful punishment. But this does not mean that they become capable of doing any good. Indeed, if the fires of hell purify the wicked, eventually they will become righteous and reach a point where they will at last be delivered from their just punishment.

The Wickedness of the Rich Man’s Request

If we closely examine this request of Dives, we will be forced to the conclusion that it is extremely wicked. For one thing, it is a selfish request. It is not a feeling of pity for these five brothers that motivates Dive’s request; it is a purely selfish concern for himself. This becomes evident if we consider the real character of hell. The rich man is himself partly responsible for the wicked walk of his brethren. He is probably the firstborn, upon whom rests responsibilities for the physical and spiritual welfare of the family. By his own life he had given them a bad example. He had never condemned their sin, but had rather encouraged their selfishness and covetousness by his own deeds. He had ignored and mocked the poor beggar at his gate in their presence and suggested that they do likewise.

We often quote the familiar proverb “Misery loves company,” but in this case it is far from true. The presence of Dive’s brothers will only increase his torture and intensify his agony, because it will remind him of his faithlessness and of his failure to fulfil his responsibilities by pointing out to them the true calling of the law of God. Their presence will make the fires of hell hotter, the bitter remorse more dreadful, the horror of God’s justice more deeply cutting.

This presupposes that beyond the grave, we will recognize those we knew on earth. While this is sometimes questioned, it is undoubtedly true, nonetheless. The old relationships of husband and wife, parents and children, friend and friend, will be no more, for all relationships of this earth will be destroyed. But the memory of them will undoubtedly linger. In heaven this will add to heaven’s blessedness. The church, gathered in the line of generations, will be the organic church in glory. The believers will be there with their elect children.

But this same truth will add to the agonies of hell. Those whom the wicked had led in evil paths will face them in the fires of destruction. Their accusing voices will rise above the gnashing of teeth. What a horror it will be for mothers to face their children whom they murdered by means of abortion. How awful it will be when a professor faces the accusing looks of his students whom he led to believe the lie of evolution. And how the children of unfaithful parents will add to the agonies of hell when their very presence will remind a father and mother of their own neglect.

This does not deny that each one in hell will be there as the just judgment for his own sins, but the communal responsibilities of the wicked will make hell even more desolate. From this the rich man is seen trying to escape.

This is not all. The rich man’s request is really a very sly and subtle accusation of God and a covert attempt at self-justification. He is apologizing to Abraham for his brethren. He is saying, in effect, that his brethren walk the way they do because they have not been sufficiently warned. There is more that can be done for them. And if this more is done for them, they will surely repent. Dives is more concerned about his brothers than he is about God’s justice. He is seemingly more merciful than God is. He is more aware than God of what his brothers need. And he complains bitterly, but subtly, that God is not doing enough.

If this is true of his brothers, it is also true of him. He means that he did not receive sufficient warning of what his lot would be. He was not given enough information about the life to come and about his calling in the world to persuade him to forsake his evil way. There are, he says, additional factors that should be taken into consideration when judgment is meted out. There were circumstances in his life beyond his control, circumstances forced on him that make his present punishment unjust. God is really to blame because he did not tell him the right way to walk, nor the terrible consequences of walking the wrong way. He really ought to have been excused, for the fault was not his.

This excuse of the rich man is really not so foreign to us, and it is often found, even in the church. When children of the covenant go astray and become delinquent, they easily blame others. They blame others for doing the things they do and leading them in evil paths. Wayward husbands blame their wives; wayward wives blame their husbands. Oftentimes the church is blamed. It is said that the preaching is over their heads; it is either too doctrinal or too practical. It is dry and hard to understand and does not hold their interest. It is not their idea of what good preaching ought to be. Or perhaps the church is too small, is too filled with bickering, is not socially minded enough, and the people are not friendly enough. Everyone is to blame but themselves. They alone are justified in their conduct. All these excuses are so many echoes of Adam and Eve in paradise: “The woman thou gavest me . . . ,” “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” Indirectly, however, the blame is always brought to the feet of God.

Such is the wicked request of the rich man from the depth of his suffering in hell.



More to come! (DV)

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