Luke 16:26
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.
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(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.



Luke 16:19 - Luke 16:31

This, the sternest of Christ’s parables, must be closely connected with verses 13 and 14. Keeping them in view, its true purpose is plain. It is meant to rebuke, not the possession of wealth, but its heartless, selfish use. Christ never treats outward conditions as having the power of determining either character or destiny. What a man does with his conditions settles what he is and what becomes of him. Nor does the parable teach that the use of wealth is the only determining factor, but, as every parable must do, it has to isolate the lesson it teaches in order to burn it into the hearers.

There are three parts in the story-the conduct of the rich man, his fate, and the sufficiency of existing warnings to keep us from his sin and his end.

I. Properly speaking, we have here, not a parable-that is, a representation of physical facts which have to be translated into moral or religious truths-but an imaginary narrative, embodying a normal fact in a single case.

The rich man does not stand for something else, but is one of the class of which Jesus wishes to set forth the sin and fate. It is very striking that neither he nor the beggar is represented as acting, but each is simply described. The juxtaposition of the two figures carries the whole lesson.

It has sometimes been felt as a difficulty that the one is not said to have done anything bad, nor the other to have been devout or good; and some hasty readers have thought that Jesus was here teaching the communistic doctrine that wealth is sin, and that poverty is virtue. No such crude trash came from His lips. But He does teach that heartless wallowing in luxury, with naked, starving beggars at the gate, is sin which brings bitter retribution. The fact that the rich man does nothing is His condemnation. He was not damned because he had a purple robe and fine linen undergarments, nor because he had lived in abundance, and every meal had been a festival, but because, while so living, he utterly ignored Lazarus, and used his wealth only for his own gratification. Nothing more needs to be said about his character; the facts sufficiently show it.

Still less needs to be said about that of Lazarus. In this part of the narrative he comes into view simply as the means of bringing out the rich man’s heartlessness and self-indulgence. For the purposes of the narrative his disposition was immaterial; for it is not our duty to help only deserving or good people. Manhood and misery are enough to establish the right to sympathy and succour. There may be a hint of character in the name ‘Lazarus,’ which probably means ‘God is help.’ Since this is the only name in the parables, it is natural to give it significance, and it most likely suggests that the beggar clung to God as his stay. It may glance, too, at the riddle of life, which often seems to mock trust by continued trouble. Little outward sign had Lazarus of divine help, yet he did not cast away his confidence. No doubt, he sometimes got some crumbs from Dives’ table, but not from Dives. That the dogs licked his sores does not seem meant as either alleviation or aggravation, but simply as vividly describing his passive helplessness and utterly neglected condition. Neither he nor any one drove them off.

But the main point about him is that he was at Dives’ gate, and therefore thrust before Dives’ notice, and that he got no help. The rich man was not bound to go and hunt for poor people, but here was one pushed under his nose, as it were. Translate that into general expressions, and it means that we all have opportunities of beneficence laid in our paths, and that our guilt is heavy if we neglect these. ‘The poor ye have always with you.’ The guilt of selfish use of worldly possessions is equally great whatever is the amount of possessions. Doing nothing when Lazarus lies at our gate is doing great wickedness. These truths have a sharp edge for us as well as for the ‘Pharisees who were covetous’; and they are wofully forgotten by professing Christians.

II. In the second part of the narrative, our Lord follows the two, who had been so near each other and yet so separated, into the land beyond the grave.

It is to be especially noticed that, in doing so, He adopts the familiar Rabbinical teaching as to Hades. He does not thereby stamp these conceptions of the state of the dead with His assent; for the purpose of the narrative is not to reveal the secrets of that land, but to impress the truth of retribution for the sin in question. It would not be to a group of Pharisaic listeners that He would have unveiled that world.

He takes their own notions of it-angel bearers, Abraham’s bosom, the two divisions in Hades, the separation, and yet communication, between them. These are Rabbis’ fancies, not Christ’s revelations. The truths which He wished to force home lie in the highly imaginative conversation between the rich man and Abraham, which also has its likeness in many a Rabbinical legend.

The difference between the ends of the two men has been often noticed, and lessons, perhaps not altogether warranted, drawn from it. But it seems right to suppose that the omission of any notice of the beggar’s burial is meant to bring out that the neglect and pitilessness, which had let him die, left his corpse unburied. Perhaps the dogs that had licked his sores tore his flesh. A fine sight that would be from the rich man’s door! The latter had to die too, for all his purple, and to be swathed in less gorgeous robes. His funeral is mentioned, not only because pomp and ostentation went as far as they could with him, but to suggest that he had to leave them all behind. ‘His glory shall not descend after him.’

The terrible picture of the rich man’s torments solemnly warns us of the necessary end of a selfish life such as his. The soul that lives to itself does not find satisfaction even here; but, when all externals are left behind, it cannot but be in torture. That is not drapery. Character makes destiny, and to live to self is death. Observe, too, that the relative positions of Dives and Lazarus are reversed-the beggar being now the possessor of abundance and delights, while the rich man is the sufferer and the needy.

Further note that the latter now desires to have from the former the very help which in life he had not given him, and that the retribution for refusing succour here is its denial hereafter. There had been no sharing of ‘good things’ in the past life, but the rich man had asserted his exclusive rights to them. They had been ‘thy good things’ in a very sinful sense, and Lazarus had bean left to carry his evil things alone. There shall be no communication of good now. Earth was the place for mutual help and impartation. That world affords no scope for it; for there men reap what they have sown, and each character has to bear its own burden.

Finally, the ineffaceableness of distinctions of character, and therefore of destiny, is set forth by the solemn image of the great gulf which cannot be crossed. It is indeed to be remembered that our Lord is speaking of ‘the intermediate state,’ before resurrection and final judgment, and that, as already remarked, the intention of the narrative is not to reveal the mysteries of the final state. But still the impression left by the whole is that life here determines life hereafter, and that character, once set and hardened here, cannot be cast into the melting-pot and remoulded there.

III. The last part of the narrative teaches that the fatal sin of heartless selfishness is inexcusable.

The rich man’s thought for his brethren was quite as much an excuse for himself. He thought that, if he had only known, things would have been different. He shifts blame from himself on to the insufficiency of the warnings given him. And the two answers put into Abraham’s mouth teach the sufficiency of ‘Moses and the prophets,’ little as these say about the future, and the impossibility of compelling men to listen to a divine message to which they do not wish to listen.

The fault lies, not in the deficiency of the warnings, but in the aversion of the will. No matter whether it is Moses or a spirit from Hades who speaks, if men do not wish to hear, they will not hear. They will not be persuaded-for persuasion has as much, or more, to do with the heart and inclination than with the head. We have as much witness from heaven as we need. The worst man knows more of duty than the best man does. Dives is in torments because he lived for self; and he lived for self, not because he did not know that it was wrong, but because he did not choose to do what he knew to be right.

Luke 16:26-29. Besides all this — As to the favour thou desirest from the hand of Lazarus, it is a thing impossible to be granted; for between us and you there is a great gulf fixed Χασμα μεγα εστηρικται, a great chasm, or void, is established. Dr. Campbell renders the clause, There lieth a huge gulf betwixt us and you, so that they who would pass hence to you cannot. If any should be so compassionate as to desire to help you, they are not able: neither can they pass to us who would come thence — But we must still continue in an unapproachable distance from each other: the passage is for ever closed: the great gulf is for ever fixed: and whether a person be happy or miserable in a future state, each is unchangeable! Each, O solemn thought! each is eternal! Then he said, I pray that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house — The rich man, finding that nothing could be done for himself, and that his own case was irretrievable, began to be in pain about his relations. He had five brethren alive, who, it seems, were living in pride and luxury, and either entertaining the Sadducean opinion concerning a future state, or living in forgetfulness and neglect of it; therefore, that he might prevent their ruin, and, if possible, ease himself of the painful reflections which he felt for having been instrumental in corrupting them, he entreated Abraham to send Lazarus unto them, in hopes it would reclaim them: for he supposed, if those in paradise could not pass to those in torment, there might be a passage from paradise to the earth, as it was evident there was from the earth thither. By making this request, the man acknowledged both his own wickedness and the principle from which it proceeded: he had either disbelieved the doctrine of a future state, or had disregarded it, had set his affections on the present world, and chosen it for his portion; and by his example, at least, had seduced his brethren into the same destructive courses. That he may testify unto them — The certain truth of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state of rewards and punishments, and the infinite importance thereof; lest they also come into this place of torment — He might justly fear lest their reproaches should add to his own misery. Abraham saith, They have Moses, &c. — Abraham replied, that they had the books of Moses and the prophets, from which they might learn the certainty and importance of these things, if they would be at the pains to read and consider them: let them hear them — Let them hearken to the warnings and instructions given them in those divine records, and they will have means sufficient to prevent their damnation.

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.A great gulf - The word translated "gulf" means chasm, or the broad, yawning space between two elevated objects. In this place it means that there is no way of passing from one to the other.

Fixed - Strengthened - made firm or immovable. It is so established that it will never be movable or passable. It will forever divide heaven and hell.

Which would pass - We are not to press this passage literally, as if those who are in heaven would "desire" to go and visit the wicked in the world of woe. The simple meaning of the statement is, that there can be no communication between the one and the other - there can be no passing from one to the other. It is impossible to conceive that the righteous would desire to leave their abodes in glory to go and dwell in the world of woe; nor can we suppose that they would wish to go for any reason unless it were possible to furnish relief. That will be out of the question. Not even a drop of water will be furnished as a relief to the sufferer.Neither can they pass to us ... - There can be no doubt that the wicked will desire to pass the gulf that divides them from heaven. They would be glad to be in a state of happiness; but all such wishes will be vain. How, in the face of the solemn statement of the Saviour here, can people believe that there will be a "restoration" of all the wicked to heaven? He solemnly assures us that there can be no passage from that world of woe to the abodes of the blessed; yet, in the face of this, many Universalists hold that hell will yet be vacated of its guilty millions, and that all its miserable inhabitants will be received to heaven! Who shall conduct them across this gulf, when Jesus Christ says it cannot be passed? Who shall build a bridge over that yawning chasm which he says is "fixed?" No: if there is anything certain from the Scripture, it is that they who enter hell return no more; they who sink there sink forever.

26. besides all this—independently of this consideration.

a great gulf fixed—By an irrevocable decree there has been placed a vast impassable abyss between the two states, and the occupants of each.

See Poole on "Luke 16:25"

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.

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.
Luke 16:26. Ἐπὶ πᾶσι τούτοις] Moreover, in addition to all. Comp. Luke 3:20. See on Ephesians 6:16, and Wetstein. There follows now after the argumentum ab aequo, Luke 16:25, still the argumentum ab impossibili for the non-compliance with the request.

χάσμα] a yawning chasm, cleft, frequently found in the classical writers; comp. χάσμα μέγα in the LXX. 2 Samuel 18:17. The idea of such a separation between the two portions of Hades does not occur among the Rabbins, among whom sometimes a separating wall is mentioned, sometimes it is said that the intervening space is only a hand, nay, only a thread in breadth. See Lightfoot, p. 857; Eisenmenger, Entdeckt. Judenth. II. p. 314 f. The chasm belongs to the poetical representation; the thought is the unalterable separation. The reference to Hesiod, Theog. 740, where in Tartarus itself is a χάσμα (comp. Eur. Phoen. 1599), is inappropriate.

ἐστήρικται] is established, so that it is never again closed.

ὅπως] purpose of the μεταξύ down to ἐστήρ.

διαβῆναι] pass over.

μηδὲ κ.τ.λ.] omitting the article before ἐκεῖθεν: and therewith they may not cross over thence to us. The subject is self-evident. The Recepta οἱ ἐκεῖθεν would have to be explained either, with Buttmann, by supplying θέλοντες διαβῆναι, or as a case of attraction instead of οἱ ἐκεῖ ἐκεῖθεν, Kühner, II. p. 319. Comp. Plat. Cratyl. p. 403 D; Thuc. viii. 107. 2.

Luke 16:26. The additional reason in this verse is supplementary to the first, as if to buttress its weakness. For the tormented man might reply: surely it is pressing the principle of equity too far to refuse me the petty comfort I ask. Will cooling my tongue increase beyond what is equitable the sum of my good things? Abraham’s reply to this anticipated objection is in effect: we might not grudge you this small solace if it were in our power to bring it to you, but unfortunately that is impossible.—ἐν (ἐπὶ, T.R.) πᾶσι τούτοις, in all those regions: the cleft runs from end to end, too wide to be crossed; you cannot outflank it and go round from Paradise to the place of torment. With ἐπὶ the phrase means, “in addition to what I have said”.—χάσμα μέγα, a cleft or ravine (here only in N.T.), vast in depth, breadth, and length; an effectual barrier to intercommunication. The Rabbis conceived of the two divisions of Hades as separated only by a wall, a palm breadth or a finger breadth (vide Weber, Lehre des Talmud, p. 326 f.).—ὅπως implies that the cleft is there for the purpose of preventing transit either way; location fixed and final.

26. there is a great gulf fixed] Change of place is not a possible way of producing change of soul. Dives while he still had the heart of Dives would have been in agony even in Abraham’s bosom. But 1 Peter 3:19-20 throws a gleam of hope athwart this gulf. It may be (for we can pretend to no certainty) no longer impassable, since Christ died and went to preach to spirits in prison. With this “great gulf” compare the interesting passage of Plato on the vain attempts of great criminals to climb out of their prisons. Rep. x. 14.

Luke 16:26. Καὶ, and) An argument drawn from the impossibility of the case.—ἐπὶ) This accumulates fresh reasons for rejecting his request. Comp. ἐπὶ, ch. Luke 3:20 [“Herod added this yet to (Engl. Ver. above) all,” ἐπὶ πᾶσιν, and ch. Luke 24:21, σῦν πᾶσι τούτοις, beside all this.—ὑμῶν, you) [not thee] Therefore there are many in hell.—χάσμα, a gulf) viz. the distance that there is between the bosom of Abraham and hell.—ἐστήρικται, there is firmly fixed) By this word the prayer of the self-indulger is cut off hopelessly.—οἱ θέλοντες, they who wish) if they could.—διαβῆναι) διαβαίνω is said of one passing unrestrictedly and of one’s self: διαπερῶ is said of one who crosses[178] by being carried.—ΟἹ ἘΚΕῖΘΕΝ) Expressed in abbreviated form for ΟἹ ἘΚΕῖ, ἘΚΕῖΘΕΝ.

[178] Over a river or lake.—E. and T.

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. Luke 16:26
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