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wherein, Gen. xxii. Christ was promised unto him, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed!" In this word, Christ was promised unto him, as he in whom all men should be blessed; that is, should be set free from sin, death, and hell; and in no other, nor by any work of their own, how excellent or laborious soever it might be. And, all those who gave credit to this promise, believed in Christ, and became true Christians: and therefore, by fully relying on this word, they were delivered from the power of sin, death, and hell.
Therefore, all the fathers who looked for the coming of Christ, were " received into Abraham's bosom;" that is, they conflicted with death by an unshaken faith: find, resting wholly on this divine oracle, they slept in peace, and are gathered up into that world as into a certain bosom, and, if they persevered unto the end, and died in that faith, will there rest until the final judgment: (those only excepted, who rose together with Christ, as is recorded Matt, xxvi.) In the same manner we when we come to conflict with death, must lay hold of the promise of Christ, and rest in it with a steady confidence; which speaks thus, " He that believeth in me, shall never die;" or any other promise of the same kind. In such a promise as this, I say, confidently enfold thy heart, and die in it; and thus, thou shalt creep into the bosom of Christ, and sweetly sleep; and be safely preserved therein, until the day of the resurrection. For the promise made unto us, and that made unto Abraham, centre in the same point; namely, in Christ, for it is by him that we are to be saved. The former promise however, is more particularly called "Abraham's bosom," because it was first spoken unto him, and he first rested in it.
On the contrary the " hell" which is here spoken of, is not that place which is appointed for the torments of the damned, after the final judgment. Nor is it probable that the body of this rich man was, at this time, cast down to the bottomless pit, but rather, buried in the earth. Hence, the hell must be some place where the spirit must remain; from which, nevertheless, there can be no return unto life, and which cannot admit of the substance of the body with the soul. It appears to me, therefore, that this hell is nothing but the remorse of the conscience that is destitute of faith and the Word of God, and in which the soul, as it were, is imprisoned and confined until the last day: after which, the man will be cast down both soul and body into the bottomless pit of hell. For as "Abraham's bosom" is the Word of God, in which those that are of faith rest, sleep, and are preserved unto the day of final judgment; so, on the other hand, hell must be that place, where there is not the Word of God, and wherein the ungodly are tormented in unbelief until the last day shall come; and this place, can be nothing else but the conscience, without faith, and filled with the guilt of sin.
The second question is this. How then can it be, that Abraham and the rich man conversed with each other? It cannot be that they exchanged words in a real and corporeal voice, because the human body of each of them was in the grave: and thus also, his tongue, which the rich man complains was tormented in the flame, could not be corporeal; nor was the finger of Lazarus corporeal; nor the water real which he asked for to cool his tongue. Wherefore, all these things must of necessity take place in the conscience; and, in this manner.—When, in the agony of death, the conscience is opened up, it is made conscious of its state of unbelief; and then, it truly sees " Abraham's bosom" and those that are concluded in it; that is, the Word of God, in which it ought to believe. And here, as it has no faith in that Word, it is in such anguish of torment, and is driven into those straits, that it is, as it were, in hell; not being able to find any help or comfort in any way. And when it comes tothis, these thoughts arise in the conscience, and it would break out, were it allowed to speak, into such expressions as these which the rich man addresses to Abraham: and it craves from the Word of God, and from all who believe in it, some alleviation of its distress: and that with so much concern, that it would willingly receive any the least comfort from the very meanest of men, but cannot get even this. For Abraham answered him, (that is, his conscience is enlightened by the Word of God to have such feelings,) that this cannot be; because he had his portion of good things in this life, and is now deservedly to be punished; while those whom he, when alive, despised, are to be raised again from the dead. And at last the conscience has a feeling, as though it heard words saying, that there is a gulph unalterably fixed between it and those that are of faith, so that no one can pass from the one to the other.
These thoughts arise from desperation: that is, from a full knowledge and persuasion in the person, that he is excluded for ever from the Word of God, and that there is no remedy or help whatever to be obtained. Hereupon these thoughts boil up more and more in the heart, and the person wants to have these dying agonies made known to the living, and miserably requires some one to be sent from the dead, to make them known unto them. But here again there is felt a repulse; and the person immediately hears this answer in the ears of his conscience—that they have Moses and the Prophets, in whom they ought to believe, and in whom he himself ought to have believed.
Behold! All these things are what passes between the condemned conscience and the Word of God, when the storms of death come over it. No living man can know what these things are, nor any but those who experience them; and those who do experience them, would have others to be told what they are—but that cannot be.
The third question is. At what time these things took place? and whether or not this rich man continues to be in such torments unto this day, and will continue in them until the last day of the world shall come ?—This question is very subtle, and very difficult of solution to the minds of the ignorant. For in the consideration of this question, all idea of time is to be kept out of the mind; and we must remember, that, in the next world, there is no such thing as time or hours, but all things are swallowed up in an eternity; as Peter saith, 2 Epkit. iii. Wherefore, it appears to me, that under the example of this rich man, is shown us what takes place in all the ungodly when' their eyes are opened in the agony of death; and that this remains but for that moment, and then goes off again until the day of judgment; but that, the whole is as God shall please, and that we cannot here set up any certain standard. Wherefore, I would not presume to declare positively, that this rich man is wracked with these torments to this day; nor, on the other hand, would I say that he is not; for each of these is as God may will. Suffice it for us to know, that we have here an example, of the certain execution of those torments that are inflicted on the ungodly.
ON THE STRENGTH AND GROWTH OF FAITH AND LOVE.
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named; That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us; unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Hitherto, the apostle Paul has described in this Epistle, the office of the ministry which the Gospel in the New Testament sets forth. And he presents to our view in the most sublime and exalted language, what an ocean of benefit, of power, of wisdom, yea of all blessings, that office brings unto us: namely, that God by this ministry sheds upon us copiously all wisdom and power, and all that good which he hath in abundance, both in heaven and in earth. For the Gospel proclaims unto us life from death, righteousness and freedom from sin, deliverance from hell and every evil, and translates out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. Which things are so great, that Paul cannot find words to describe them; and he speaks of them in language so sublime, that expressions more exalted could not be used. And then, to all this he adds, as it were, a certain concluding climax; praying, that all these great things may not be preached and be brought to the external hearing and judgment only, but may reach to the heart also, and may work in the internal recesses of the mind in the same way as their external sound reaches the ear. For, it is of little service that they be taught by the sounding voice only, and be heard by the ear, if they do not enter into the heart and break forth into works. The kingdom of God, as Paul saith, standeth "not in word but in power." For all these things ought internally to be believed in the heart, and that faith ought to exercise itself externally in love, so that the whole may be power and not word, life and not talk! These things were so ordained, that the word might not rest on the tongue and in the ears only, but become power, and that works might proceed from it. In the Old Testament also Moses said many things in words, but no one did the works. But here, we are to say little, and work much. Hence it is, that Paul here prays, that the Gos