There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:…
You can hardly imagine it possible that the most hardened of mankind would be proof against warning uttered by a spectral form, coming mysteriously in the stillness of midnight — the form of a friend or a kinsman well remembered, though long ago deceased — which should stand at your bedside, and declare, in unearthly tones, the certain doom of the unrighteous; and when you contrast with the message thus fearfully delivered, the ordinary summons of the gospel, whether as read or preached, you feel it, perhaps, little more than an absurdity to contend that practically there is as much of power in the latter as in the former. Yet we are persuaded — we are certain, that the parable put into the mouth of Abraham may be vindicated by the most cogent yet simple reasoning. Just consider that the effect of a messenger threatening us with punishment unless we repent, depends chiefly on our assurance that it is actually a messenger from God. Now tell me which is the strongest — the evidence which we have that the Bible is God's Word, or that which we could be supposed to have that the grave has given up its tenant, and that the spectre has spoken to us truth? You will hardly say that there is room here for dispute; you will hardly say that man could have a better reason for believing what might be said to him by a departed friend or relation, than he has for believing what is written in the Bible. The evidence that the spectre was commissioned by God, could not surely be greater than that Christ and the apostles were commissioned by God; therefore the man who is not persuaded by Christ and the apostles, might be expected to remain unpersuaded by the spectre. He has no greater amount of evidence to resist; why, then, is he more likely to yield? But you may say, the messenger from the grave may not, indeed, have greater credentials than Christ and His apostles, but those credentials are more forced on the attention; they are more addressed to the senses, and therefore, are more likely to excite repentance. Now this seems very plausible. A man may quite neglect the Bible; he may not study its evidences; and thus, whatever their strength, they must be practically ineffectual. But he cannot be inattentive to the spectre. The shadowy thing stands by him, causing his blood to run cold, and his knees to tremble, and it speaks to him in thrilling accents, to which he cannot, if he would, turn a deaf ear. We admit this, but we cannot admit that the words of the spectre are more likely to make a permanent impression than of a living preacher speaking in the name of God and that of Christ. The spectre speaks to me to-day; addresses itself to my senses, and thus takes, as you think the most effectual mode of producing an impression. But what evidence shall I have to-morrow of the supernatural visitation? There will be nothing but the memory of the occurrence — there will be no witness but my own recollection to which to appeal, and then how easy to suspect that the whole was a delusion! How natural to call in question, whether it has been more than a dream, more than the coinage of a disordered and overwrought mind! I have historical accumulated proof that Christ came forth from the dead, and sent me a message which bids me forsake sin, but I should have no such proofs in regard to the supposed spectre; and, therefore, the almost certainty is that however scared and agitated I might be at the moment when the apparition stood before me, I should soon get rid of the impression I soon persuade myself that I had been acted on by my own distempered fancy; and, perhaps, laugh at my own credulity. If I can despise Christ, who returned from the dead, though there is given me irrefragable evidence of His return, why should I be expected to give heed to Lazarus, who might indeed come back to me but leave no lasting proof that he had deserted the grave? No! no! A buried kinsman might come and preach to you, but you would not give heed, if you could be deaf to the voice of Moses and the prophets. You have as good grounds to believe me, while I am now speaking the words of Christ, as you would have if I re-appeared after death, and came, in my grave-clothes, to re-occupy this pulpit. Let it be so. Let there be re-enacted the scene in the cave of the Witch of Endor: "Call me up Samuel," said Saul, to this poor woman, and "an old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle —" Call up whom you will; let any minister whom you have been long accustomed to hear, and whose voice has long been silent in death, suddenly re-appear, and assume, for a moment, the office of a teacher, what a fearful silence, what a throbbing of the heart, what terror of the spirit! He speaks in well-known accents; he makes you shudder, and you can scarcely so control your agitation as to listen to his words. But what could he say which you had not already heard? What could he do more than make the attempt to tell you what is delineated in the Bible? You remember the description in the Book of Job of the appearance of the spectre — a description, pronounced by one of the greatest writers in our language, "unequalled in fearful sublimities." It is this: "Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up; it stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes; there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying," — What did it say? With what marvellous and mighty tidings did this spectre come charged? This is all it said: "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?" Do we need a ghost to tell us that? do we not know that already? Oh! the spectre might come; but it could tell you nothing to make heaven more attractive, or hell more terrible, than is delineated in the Bible — nothing to make it more certain than it already is, that unless you repent, you shall surely perish. Oh, no; there could be no more powerful truth uttered; no more convincing evidence afforded than now that you are listening to me, who have never entered the invisible world. It would give a solemnity — an awful unearthliness to the ministry if it were conducted by a visitant from the separate state; but the pleasures and the business of life would produce gradually the same effect as now, obliterating the impressions made by the solemn discourse.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: