Luke 16:26 MEANING

Luke 16:26
(26) There is a great gulf fixed.--Literally, a chasm, the opening or gaping of the earth. The scene brought before us is like one of the pictures of Dante's Commedia--steep rocks and a deep gorge, and on one side the flames that burn and do not consume, and on the other, the fair garden of Paradise and the kingly palace, and the banquet at which Abraham presides. And those that are bearing the penalty, or reaping the reward, of their life are within sight and hearing of each other, and hold conversation and debate. It is obvious that no single detail of such a description can be pressed as a literal representation of the unseen world. What was wanted for the purpose of the parable was the dramatic and pictorial vividness which impresses itself on the minds and hearts of men, and this could not otherwise be gained.

So that they which would pass from hence . . .--So far as we may draw any inference from such a detail as this, it suggests the thought that the blessed look with pity and compassion on those who are in the penal fires, and would fain help them if they could. They that wish to pass are spoken of in tones which present a striking contrast to the vindictive exultation that has sometimes shown itself in Christian writers, such, e.g., as Tertullian (de Spectac. c. 30), and Milton (Reformation in England, ad fin.). A further lesson is, of course, implied, which strikes at the root of the specifically Romish theory of Purgatory and Indulgences--viz., that the wish is fruitless, that no interposition of the saints avails beyond the grave. The thought of their intercession that the discipline may do its appointed work is, indeed, not absolutely excluded, but that work must continue as long as God wills, i.e., till it attains its end.

Verse 26. - And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Although the whole thought which runs through this parable is new, and peculiar to Christ, yet the colouring of the picture is nearly all borrowed from the great rabbinic schools; one of the few exceptions to this rule being this chasm or gulf which separates the two regions of Hades. The rabbis represented the division as consisting only of a wall. "What is the distance between Paradise and Gehenna? According to R. Johanan, a wall; according to other teachers, a palm-breadth, or only a finger-breadth" ('Midrash on Koheleth'). What, asks the awestruck reader, is this dreadful chasm? why is it impassable? will it be for ever there? will no ages of sorrow, no tears, no bitter heartfelt repentance succeed in throwing a bridge across it? Many have written here, and kindly souls have tried to answer the stern question with the gentle, loving reply which their souls so longed to hear. What is impossible to the limitless love of God? Nothing, wistfully says the heart. But, when interrogated closely, the parable and, indeed, all the Master's teaching on this point preserves a silence complete, impenetrable.

16:19-31 Here the spiritual things are represented, in a description of the different state of good and bad, in this world and in the other. We are not told that the rich man got his estate by fraud, or oppression; but Christ shows, that a man may have a great deal of the wealth, pomp, and pleasure of this world, yet perish for ever under God's wrath and curse. The sin of this rich man was his providing for himself only. Here is a godly man, and one that will hereafter be happy for ever, in the depth of adversity and distress. It is often the lot of some of the dearest of God's saints and servants to be greatly afflicted in this world. We are not told that the rich man did him any harm, but we do not find that he had any care for him. Here is the different condition of this godly poor man, and this wicked rich man, at and after death. The rich man in hell lifted up his eyes, being in torment. It is not probable that there are discourses between glorified saints and damned sinners, but this dialogue shows the hopeless misery and fruitless desires, to which condemned spirits are brought. There is a day coming, when those who now hate and despise the people of God, would gladly receive kindness from them. But the damned in hell shall not have the least abatement of their torment. Sinners are now called upon to remember; but they do not, they will not, they find ways to avoid it. As wicked people have good things only in this life, and at death are for ever separated from all good, so godly people have evil things only in this life, and at death they are for ever put from them. In this world, blessed be God, there is no gulf between a state of nature and grace, we may pass from sin to God; but if we die in our sins, there is no coming out. The rich man had five brethren, and would have them stopped in their sinful course; their coming to that place of torment, would make his misery the worse, who had helped to show them the way thither. How many would now desire to recall or to undo what they have written or done! Those who would make the rich man's praying to Abraham justify praying to saints departed, go far to seek for proofs, when the mistake of a damned sinner is all they can find for an example. And surely there is no encouragement to follow the example, when all his prayers were made in vain. A messenger from the dead could say no more than what is said in the Scriptures. The same strength of corruption that breaks through the convictions of the written word, would triumph over a witness from the dead. Let us seek to the law and to the testimony, Isa 8:19,20, for that is the sure word of prophecy, upon which we may rest, 2Pe 1:19. Circumstances in every age show that no terrors, or arguments, can give true repentance without the special grace of God renewing the sinner's heart.And besides all this,.... The different circumstances of each, both past and present, which should be observed and considered:

between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; as this may regard the state of the Pharisees after death, it intends not the natural distance between heaven and hell; though there may be an allusion to the notions of the Jews concerning that, who on those words in Ecclesiastes 7:14. "God hath set the one over against the other", say (f),

"this is hell and paradise, what space is there between them? an hand's breadth; R. Jochanan says a wall, but the Rabbans say, they are both of them even, so that they may look out of one into another.''

Which passage is cited a little differently (g), thus;

"wherefore did the holy blessed God create hell and paradise? that they might be one against another; what space is there between them? R. Jochanan says, a wall, and R. Acha says an hand's breadth: but the Rabbans say, two fingers.''

And elsewhere it (h) is said,

"know that hell and paradise are near to one another, and one house separates between them; and paradise is on the north east side---and hell on the north west.''

Mahomet seems to have borrowed this notion from them, who says (i),

"between the blessed and the damned, there shall be a vail; and men shall stand on "Al Araf", (the name of the wall or partition, that shall separate paradise from hell,) who shall know every one of them by their mouths.''

But not this natural space, be it what it will, but the immutable decree of God is intended here, which has unalterably fixed the state of the damned, and of the blessed:

so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would come from thence; not that those in heaven can desire to go to those in hell; though those in hell, may wish to be in heaven; but the sense is, that by this irrevocable decree of God, the saints in heaven are eternally happy, and the wicked in hell eternally miserable: and this also agrees with the notions of the Jews (k), who represent it impossible: for a man, after he has descended into hell, to come up from thence any more: but as this may regard the Jews state of captivity and affliction, since the destruction of their city and temple, upon, and for their rejection of the Messiah; it may denote the impossibility of Christ's coming again upon the same errand he came on before, to be a Saviour of sinners, and a sacrifice for sin; and of the Jews believing in him, so long as they lie under the spirit of slumber, and are given up to judicial blindness and hardness of heart.

(f) Midrash Kohelet, fol 76. 1.((g) Nishmat Chayim Orat. 1. sect. 12. fol. 31. 1.((h) Raziel, fol. 15. 1.((i) Koran, c. 7. p. 120. (k) Caphtor, fol. 70. 2.

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