What Saith the Scripture?
The Rich Man and Lazarus
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
November 9, 1853
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen
and fared sumptuously every day; and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which
was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which
fell from the rich man's table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.
"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into
Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried: and in hell he lifted up
his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried, and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus, that he
may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in
this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst
thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and thou
art tormented. And besides 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.
"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. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses
and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one
went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear
not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from
A parable is a little anecdote or a case of supposed history, designed to illustrate
some truth. A simple and striking mode of illustration--it makes no attempt at reasoning;
indeed it takes the place of all reasoning by at once revealing truth to the mind.
In general, parables assume certain truths--a thing which they have an ample right
to do, for some truths need no proof, and in other cases, a teacher may speak from
his perfect knowledge, and in such a case, there can be no reason for demanding that
he stop to prove all he asserts.
In the case of parables it is often interesting to notice what truths they do assume.
This is especially true of the parables of Christ for none were ever more rich by
virtue both of the truths directly taught and also by virtue of the truths they assume.
I may also remark here that truths are taught in Christ's parables both directly
and incidentally. Some one great truth is the leading object of the illustration,
yet other truths of the highest importance may be taught incidentally, not being
embraced in his direct design.
The passage which I have read to you this morning, is probably a parable though not
distinctly affirmed to be so. The nature of the case seems to show this; although
these very circumstances might have all actually occurred in fact and in the same
order as here related.
In discussing the passage, I propose,
I. To notice some truths that are assumed in it;
II. To present some that are intentionally taught.
I. Some truths that are assumed in this parable.
- 1. Christ assumes in this passage the direct opposite of annihilation. He assumes
that men are not annihilated at death, nor indeed ever. For he speaks of things that
take place immediately after death. The men who lived on earth live beyond death
and receive according to the things they have done here in the body. It was no part
of his direct object to affirm this doctrine; yet his statements imply it. Being
himself the Great Teacher, it is not without reason that He should assume the fundamental
truths that pertain to man's future existence under God's moral government.
- 2. He assumes that the state into which both good and bad men pass at death is
one of real and intense consciousness. This of course denies the assumption that
this state is an unconscious one. You are aware that some do not hold to annihilation,
yet hold to unconsciousness in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection.
This doctrine, whether applied to saints or sinners, is entirely set aside by our
Saviour's teachings in this narrative.
- 3. He assumes that the righteous and the wicked recognize each other after death.
The rich man knew both Abraham and Lazarus. Abraham knew him. They all respectively
knew each other. The statements represent the colloquy to have been held between
the rich man and Abraham. Abraham, though long since in heaven, knew both this rich
man and Lazarus. It was not our Lord's design directly to affirm this, yet he obviously
- 4. It is also assumed that they are acquainted with each other's state and history.
All these matters were entirely familiar to their minds.
- 5. It is fully assumed that at death the righteous go immediately to a state
of bliss and the wicked to a place of torment. This lies out undeniably on the face
of the passage.
II. I am next to notice some of the truths distinctly and directly taught in
- 1. That at death angels conduct the righteous to their place of blessedness.
It is expressly said of Lazarus that he was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom.
Dogs were his companions here up to his death; angels immediately thereafter. When
the dogs could minister to his wants no longer, angels stepped in and took his case
in charge. They bore him away to the home of the blessed.
We may infer that this is the common employment of angels. Paul in Hebrews 1:12
strengthens this position, in his question, "Are they not all ministering spirits,
sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
- 2. Saints after death are sensible of no want. They have nothing left to desire.
They are sensible of wanting nothing that can be needful to their highest happiness.
In this life they may have had their cup filled with bitterest grief; but at death,
this cup is removed for ever away, and quite another cup is placed to their lips--forever.
Lazarus had his evil things in this world; poverty, pain, sores, and want, were his
portion here; but after death, he knew these things no more at all. They passed away
- 3. On the other hand sinners after death are full of want, and have no good at
all. The rich man asked for only the very smallest favour. He had fared sumptuously
every day; but now he is reduced so low, he can only beg for one drop of water to
cool his tongue. He asks for only so much as might adhere to the tip of one's finger
when taken from the water. You have seen persons lie under a burning fever--prostrate,
parched, can't say a word, can only beckon for water--water--one drop to cool their
burning tongue. See the man dying;--he tries to move a little, towards the water;--ah
he fails; he sinks back in his bed for the last time, and the burning fever has used
up all his strength. You who have suffered from fever know what this means--to have
a consuming fire shut up within you. Here mark. The Great Teacher makes the rich
man cry out, "Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and
cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." Why did he not ask for an
ocean of water, or a pail-full at least, or a pitcher-full; why restrict himself
to the least drop? Plainly he knew himself to be placed beyond all good. He knew
this was the utmost he could ask, and even this is denied him! What could our Lord
have designed but to teach this? How irresistibly is this taught and with what overpowering
force! What remarkable facts are these! How obviously and how forcibly is the truth
taught here that saints at death pass into a state all joyful, but the wicked into
one of unutterable torment!
- 4. We learn the state of mind in which the wicked are. This man asks for only
the very slightest mitigation. He says not one word about pardon; this he knows to
be impossible. How small the boon he dares to ask! How very small if he could have
had it, would have been the boon of one small drop of water on a tongue tormented
in flame. Yet he does not dare to ask for anything beyond this;--nor even this of
God! He knew and he most deeply felt that he had cast off God and God in turn had
cast off him. He could not think of speaking to God. He could venture to speak only
to Abraham, and this solitary Bible case of prayer to saints in heaven surely affords
no very plausible foundation for the Romish practice. This rich man had not the least
hope of release from his woe. He did not ask so great a boon as this. Deep in his
soul he felt that such a request was for ever precluded.
It is remarkable too that, though the boon he did ask was so trifling and his
need so great, yet even this pittance was denied him. Abraham gave him plainly to
understand that this was impossible. Son, said he, remember that thou in thy lifetime
hast received thy good things; thou hast had thine all; there are no more for thee
- 5. Besides this, there is a great gulf fixed--parting forever the saved from
the damned: we cannot go to you if we would; you cannot come to us, however much
you may desire it. Most plainly does Christ teach in this representation that the
state of both the righteous and the wicked is fixed, fixed forever, and forever changeless.
There can be no passage open therefore as some would fain have it, from one world
to the other. They who are in heaven can never get to hell to help the suffering
ones there if they would; and on the other hand, the miserable in hell can never
get to heaven. What less than this could the Saviour have intended to teach--that
each class enter at death upon another state which is to each alike unchangeable?
The righteous cannot pass the great gulf to hell; the wicked cannot pass it to heaven.
Once heaven's gate was open to even the sinner on his repentance; now it is open
to him no more. He has passed away from the world where his moral state can be changed.
He has entered on one where no change can reach him any more at all forever.
- 6. The wicked dread to have their friends come to them in this place of torment.
You see this feeling most distinctly manifested in this parable. The reason of the
feeling is obvious. They are still human beings and therefore it can be no joy to
them to have their earthly friends come into their place of woe. They have human
feelings. They know they can look for no alleviation of their own woe from the presence
of their friends. They know that if those friends come there as they did they can
never escape; therefore they beg that those friends may never come. Therefore this
rich man prays that Abraham would send Lazarus to his five brethren, to testify to
them, lest they also come into that place of torment.
- 7. The state of mind that rejects the Bible would reject any testimony that could
be given. This is plainly taught here, and can be proved. It can be proved that the
testimony of one who should rise from the dead is no better or stronger than that
of the Bible. Paul said he had been caught up to the third heaven, but men would
not believe him. Or take the case of Lazarus, raised beyond all question from the
dead. We are not told what he taught, nor is it said that his instructions made any
special impressions on the living unbelievers of that generation. Those of you who
have read the history of William Tennant--a co-labourer with Whitfield and Edwards,
know how he apparently died; how after death he went to heaven; how he too like Paul,
saw there unspeakable things which no man could utter; how he returned again and
lived several years as one who had seen the glories of heaven; but was this stronger
evidence than the Bible itself? Did it surpass in strength of demonstration the teachings
of Moses and of the prophets? Yet more, did it surpass the force and evidence with
which Jesus spake and also his apostles? No, verily. When unbelief has taken possession
of the mind, you may pile miracle on miracle; men will not believe it. Suppose ever
so many should rise from the dead. Men who reject the Bible would not believe their
testimony. They would insist either that they had not been really dead, or that if
they had been, they did not bring back a reliable report from that other country.
They would make a thousand objections, as they do now, against the Bible, and with
much more plausibility then than now. Now, they only know their objections are really
unfounded; then they would have more plausible objections to make, and would be sure
to give them credit enough to refuse to repent under their teachings. They would
not be persuaded even then.
- 8. The estimation in which God holds men may not be learned from their outward
circumstances. His favor cannot be inferred from the trappings of wealth; nor is
it precluded by any amount of poverty. These external things neither prove nor disprove
God's approbation of the hearts and the life of men.
- 9. The righteous need not envy rich sinners. Lazarus did not envy the rich man.
He saw that he was petted for his great wealth, but pitied rather than envied him.
He doubtless understood that this man was having his good things in this world. So
good men, if they have faith, understand that those rich and wicked men are receiving
all their good things in this world therefore are far from being objects of envy.
- 10. The former poverty of the righteous poor will give a keener relish to the
joys of heaven. Think of the abject poverty of this man--wandering about with no
home, no place even to lay his head. So multitudes in Eastern countries may be seen
lying around the city walls like the swine of the streets. I saw them in Malta when
I was there, and in Sicily also. They had no home to go to, no resources against
a sick or stormy day. So Lazarus lived and it was from such a life and such scenes
that he was transferred to the royal palace of Jehovah. Take the case of some poor
beggar lying helpless outside the palace-walls of Queen Victoria. Suppose him suddenly
taken up and exalted to the highest honors of the palace itself. How would his joy
intoxicate his brain--too much for flesh and blood to bear! So poor saints passing
from the dunghill on earth to the golden palaces of heaven. It is well they lose
their nerves in the change, for surely nerves of flesh could not bear so great a
change. See Lazarus, sick and sore, perhaps putrid--licked by dogs; but he reached
at length the crisis of his sorrows, and all suddenly the mortal coil drops, and
his spirit takes wings--angels receive him; he soars away and heaven opens wide its
gates of pearl to make him welcome! Sometimes when I have stood and seen the Christian
die--have seen him struggle and pant and gasp and pass away, I have said, What a
wonderful change is this! See how that eye grows glassy and dark; then it closes;
it sees no more of earth, but all suddenly it opens on the glories of the upper world
to be closed no more forever!
- 11. But to have the luxuries of this life superseded by the poverty and woe of
hell--how awful! This rich man had royal wealth. We are told that he fared sumptuously
every day--not only on special occasions, but every day! Every day too he was clad
in purple and fine linen; but now how wonderful the contrast! Nothing is said of
the burial of Lazarus; perhaps he had none worth noticing; but this man had a funeral.
It was a noticeable fact. Perhaps thousands gathered round his remains to do him
honour--but where is he? Lifting up his eyes in hell, being in torments! What a change!
From his table and his palace, to hell! Lazarus passed from his sores and beggary
to heaven; the rich man, from his pomp and pride and feasting, to hell. As the great
poverty of Lazarus, so set off in contrast with heaven, must have given great edge
and keenness to the joys of that world, so on the reverse scale, how dreadful the
contrast which this rich man experienced! If we always get clearer and stronger views
by contrast, surely we have a picture drawn here that is adapted to teach us awful
truth and force it home on the soul with telling power.
- 12. If it be true that angels convey saints to heaven, as we are taught both
here and elsewhere in God's word, then it is not irrational to suppose that what
many saints say in their dying hours of the things they see is strictly true. Gathering
darkness clouds the senses, and the mind becomes greatly spiritual as their looks
plainly show; those looks--the eye, the countenance, the melting whisper, these tell
the story better than any words can do it; indeed no words can describe those looks--no
language can paint what you can stand by and see and hear--a peace so deep and so
divine; this shows that the soul is almost in heaven. In all ages it has been common
for some dying saints to hear music which they supposed to be of heaven and to see
angels near and around them. With eyes that see what others cannot see, they recognize
their attending angels as already come, "Don't you hear that music?" say
they. "Don't you see those shinning ones? they come, they come!" But attending
friends are yet too carnal to see such objects and to hear such sounds; for it is
the mind and not the body that has eyes. It is the mind that sees, and not the body.
No doubt in such cases, they do really see angelic forms and hear angelic voices.
The Bible says--"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
How gloriously do these closing scenes illustrate this truth.
- 13. If this be true of saints, then doubtless wicked spirits are allowed to drag
the wicked down from their dying beds to hell. Nor is it unreasonable to suppose
that they too really see awful shapes and hear dreadful sounds. "Who is that
weeping and wailing? Did I not hear a groan? Is there not some one weeping as if
in awful agony? O, that awful thing; take him away, take him away! He will seize
me and drag me down; take him away, away!"
So the wicked are sometimes affected in their dying moments. There is no good
reason to doubt that these objects seen and sounds heard, by saints and sinners in
their last earthly moments, are realities. You who have read Dr. Nelson's book on
infidelity, cannot but have noticed especially what he says of the experience of
persons near death. These things passed under his observation chiefly while he was
a physician, and while yet an infidel himself. Dying sinners would cry out, "O,
that awful creature! take him away, away; why don't you take him away?" Ye who
know Dr. Nelson, must have known that he did not say these things at random. He did
not admit them without evidence, or state them without due consideration.
- 14. We are left to infer the character of this rich man from his worldly-mindedness.
Christ did not seem to deem it necessary to state that he was a wicked man, but left
this to be inferred from his self-indulgent life. He needed only to say of him that
he lived for self-gratification; that he used his wealth for himself only, and not
for the good of man, or for the glory of God. This explained his character sufficiently.
People act very much in this world, as if they supposed poverty would disqualify
them for heaven. They would seem to hold the exact opposite of the truth. Christ
said, "How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven"; and
yet, who seems to have the least fear of losing heaven by means of the snare of wealth?
How wonderful is the course that men pursue, and indeed a great many Christian men
are pursuing! A Christian mother, writing to me from New York, said, "All, even
Christians, are giving themselves up to making money, MONEY, MONEY! They are wholly
given up to stocks, and banks, and getting rich." There is a great deal of this
spirit all over the country, and even here. But look at it in the light of this parable
and of our Saviour's assumption in regard to the character of this rich man, and
what a fearful state is this to live and to die in.
- 15. What can Universalists say or believe when they read such passages as this?
What miserable shifts they must make to interpret these words! I recollect when I
tried and wanted to be Universalist, and for this purpose went to their meetings
and heard their arguments; I said to myself, "For very shame, I could never
use such arguments; no, not for the shame of admitting and avowing such absurdities!"
What can be more absurd than to resort to such sophistry and special pleading to
set aside statements so clear and direct to the point as these in this chapter.
- 16. God is giving to all sinners--to you sinners in this place--a great many
rich gifts. What use are you making of them? What are you doing with these gifts?
What are you doing with these things which God comes down each day to bring to you?
Are you cavilling, to prevent Christ from saving you if you can? Many act as if they
meant to avoid being saved if by any means they can. You act just like reprobates.
But I must explain myself. I often meet with persons whose spirit makes me believe
they are reprobates. You know that all things are eternally present to the mind of
God. He saw how these sinners would treat the gospel. He saw they would repel and
hate Christ--would not love his service nor accept the offers of his great salvation.
He saw all this in his past eternity; therefore he reprobated them; therefore he
gave them over to their own hearts' lusts. Those things which God saw in the depths
of his eternity, we only see as they boil up upon the surface of actual present life.
You see them resist the Spirit; you see them cavil and fight against God's truth;
you know they are fighting against God. So strongly does the conviction fasten on
the minds of Christians in some cases, that they cannot pray for those who they are
assured are reprobates. Said a very pious woman, "For ten years, I have not
prayed for that son." Why? She saw that he was set against God, and she could
not pray for him. It is indeed an awful thing to find such cases in Christian families.
Nobody can tell the agony of a parent's heart to see a son setting at naught all
the claims and all the mercies of God, and working his dismal way obstinately down
to the depths of an eternal hell. Some of you before me today, know that you have
children who give awful evidence of being reprobate!
Hear that man across the street sighing as he moves along. What is the matter?
He is in agony for a hardened, reprobate son.
You call at a neighbor's door; you ring the bell; the mother comes. You see the tear
in her eye; she can scarcely speak. What is the matter? She has a son, and she fears
he is a reprobate. All his conduct heightens the awful fear that he is given over
But let those who have not gone so far, take warning. Some of those whom you have
mocked and reviled, you may by and by see in glory. They may be in Abraham's bosom,
and you afar off! You may cry to them for help, but all in vain. Will they rush to
your help? No. You see your father, your mother, afar off in that spirit land,--you
think they will fly to succor you, and bring you at least one drop of water,--they
used to do so many a time when you were in pain. Ah! many a time has that mother
watched over your suffering frame, and rushed to your relief; but will she do so
now? "My son, hear this: there is no passing from this place to that. You once
lived in my house and lay in my bosom, but I cannot bring you one drop of water now!"
And has it come to this? Must it come to this? Ah, yes, it must come to this!
Christian parents, one word to you. Suppose you conceive of this as your case. You
see one of your children crying, "O give me one drop of water to cool my burning
tongue!" I know what Universalists would say to this. They say, "Can a
parent be happy, and see this? And do you think a parent is more compassionate than
But in that hour of retribution, those Christian parents will say even of the sons
and daughters they have borne, "Let them perish, they are the enemies of God
and of his kingdom! Let them perish, since they would not have salvation! They must
perish, for God's throne must stand and ought to stand, though all the race go down
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
- Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart,
is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character
in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are
as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they
are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is
due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE
- Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not
mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit,
but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake
of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good
because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its
own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures
happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their
happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting
the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own
gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).
- Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence
of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection
of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of
God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).
- Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved,
were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification
of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation
by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a
means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really
as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).
- Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses:
(1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and,
(2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire
sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established,
confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration
to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).
- Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation.
The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE III).
- Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will,
not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of
moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not
moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible
choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral
law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity,
because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect...
it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act
in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
- Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every
subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit
or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).
- Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without
any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they
never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it.
The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).
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