The Warnings Of Scripture Are In The Best Manner Adapted To The Awakening And Conversion Of Sinners
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
But this seems to be put
into the parable chiefly to introduce what follows, the reply which Abraham made
to him, They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them. As much as
to say, they have already abundant warning and instruction, which God himself
hath provided for them, let them make use of that.
The rich man replies, Nay,
Father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
Then come in the words of the text, And he said unto him, If they hear not
Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the
dead. By Moses and the prophets is meant the whole Old Testament, which was
the whole canon of Scripture which they had in those times. The hearing of them
implies, attending to what they say, believing them, and obeying them — they
would not be persuaded — that is, they would not be persuaded to take
thorough care of their souls, to forsake their sins and turn to God, so as to
avoid this place of torment — though one rose from the dead; though one
should go from the invisible world, either from heaven, where they see the
torments of the damned, or from hell, where they feel them.
The warnings of God’s Word
are more fitted to obtain the ends of awakening sinners, and bringing them to
repentance, than the rising of one from the dead to warn them.
In this passage, Moses and
the prophets seem not only to be equalized to the warnings of one from the
invisible world, but to be preferred before them. They have Moses and the
prophets, let them hear them. They have already those means which God in his
infinite wisdom hath seen to be fittest for them, and more suitable to their
nature and circumstances, than the rising of one from the dead. — But whether
there can be any more than an equality necessarily inferred or not; yet if only
the warnings of the Old Testament have an equal tendency to bring men to
repentance, as the rising of one from the dead; then surely these, together with
the much clearer revelation under the gospel-dispensation by Christ and his
apostles — wherein we are abundantly more plainly told of another world, and
wherein life and immortality are brought to light — must have a much greater
tendency and fitness to obtain these ends.
Sinners are apt to find
fault with the means of grace which they enjoy, and to say with themselves, If I
had ever seen hell, or had ever heard the cries of the damned, or had ever seen
a person who had felt hell-torments, or had seen them at a distance, that would
awaken me; then I would for sake all my sins, and would do whatever I could to
escape hell. But now I am only told of hell in the Bible and by ministers; and
there never was any in this world that saw or felt it: so that I am ready to
think it is mere delusion and fancy. How do I know that there is any hell? How
do I know but that when I die there will be an end of me?
But it is the indisposition
of sinners to this great work, to which they are directed, which makes them find
fault with their means and advantages. The slothful and negligent, who hate to
bestir themselves, are they who object. “The way of the slothful is as a hedge
of thorns.” — Sinners know not what they would have. They are fixedly averse
to breaking off their sins by righteousness. And to make the matter the more
excusable, they object against the sufficiency of their means, and so they will
not believe, except they see hell, or see some person who has seen it.
But God, who knows our
nature and circumstances, knows what is most adapted to them. He who made the
faculties of our souls, knows what will have the greatest tendency to move them,
and to work upon them. He who is striving with us, to bring us to repentance and
salvation, uses the fittest and best means. In contriving and appointing the
means of our salvation, he chooses better for us than we should for ourselves.
Suppose a person should rise
from the dead to warn sinners, either from heaven, where they see the misery of
the damned, or from hell, where they feel it; and should tell how dismal those
torments are, having seen or felt them; and suppose he should confirm what he
said, by declaring that he had seen the smoke of their torments, the raging of
the flames, the dreadful crew of devils and damned souls together, and had heard
their dismal cries and shrieks; or suppose he should say that he had felt them,
and should express by words and actions the doleful state of the damned and the
extremity of their torments; this would probably greatly fright and terrify many
sinners who were not terrified by reading the Bible, nor by hearing preaching
about hell-torments. But it would be very much because of the unusualness and
strangeness of the thing. Men are apt to be much affected with strange things,
and to be much affrighted by specters in the dark, because they are unusual. But
if they were as common as preaching is, they would lose their effect.
It might be that on such an
unusual occasion, as the rising of one from the dead, for a while men would
reform their lives, and possibly some might be so affected as never to forget
it. But we are to consider which would have the greatest tendency to awaken us,
if both were alike new and unusual, to be warned of the misery of hell by the
great God himself, declaring as it were from heaven how dreadful hell is, and
abundantly warning us about it; or to be warned only by a man coming from the
invisible world, who had either seen or felt these miseries. It is in this view
that we shall consider the matter; and we shall show what advantages the former
mode of warning has above the latter; or how the warnings of God’s Word have a
greater tendency to awaken sinners and bring them to repentance, than the rising
of one from the dead to warn them.
I. God, in many respects,
knows better what belongs to the punishment of sinners than departed souls.
Departed souls doubtless know what hell-torments are, much better than any on
earth. The souls of the wicked feel them, and the souls of the saints see them
afar off. God glorifies his justice in the punishment of ungodly men, in the
view of the saints and angels, and thereby makes them the more admire the riches
of his goodness in choosing them to like. As the rich man saw Lazarus in heaven
afar off, so Lazarus saw the rich man in hell. He saw hell-torments. And
therefore the rich man desires he may be sent to warn his brethren. — And if
one should rise from the dead to warn wicked men, if it would at all awaken
them, it would be because he knew what hell-torments were by his own knowledge,
and could describe them to others, as having seen and felt them.
But surely the all-seeing
God knows as well as any of the dead, what the present sufferings of the damned
are. He is everywhere present with his all-seeing eye. He is in heaven and in
hell, and in and through every part of the creation.. He is where every devil
is; and where every damned soul is, he is present by his knowledge and his
essence. He not only knows as well as those in heaven, who see at a distance;
but he knows as perfectly as those who feel the misery. He seeth into the
innermost recesses of the hearts of those miserable spirits. He seeth all the
sorrow and anguish that are there; for he upholds them in being. They and all
the powers of their spirits, whereby they are capable of either happiness or
misery, are in his hands.
Besides, it is his wrath
they endure. He measures out to them their several portions of punishment. He
makes his wrath enter into them. He is a consuming fire to them. His anger is
that fire, in which they are tormented. He therefore is doubtless able to give
us as clear and distinct, and as true, an account of hell, as the damned
themselves, if they should rise from the dead. He needs not any to inform him.
He knows far better what the
eternity of these torments is than any of them, He can better tell us how awful
a thing eternity is. He knows better what the future judgment of sinners will
be, when the Lord Jesus shall come in flaming fire to take vengeance on them
that know not God, and obey not the gospel. He knows far better than they how
much the torment of the wicked will then be increased.
II. We have the truth upon
surer grounds from God’s testimony than we could have it from the testimony of
one rising from the dead. Suppose one should rise from the dead, and tell us of
the dreadfulness of hell-torments. How precarious a foundation would that be to
build upon, in a matter of such importance, unless we consider it as confirmed
by divine testimony. We should be uncertain whether there were not some delusion
in the case. We know that it is impossible for God to lie. And we may know that
the matter is just as he declares it to us. But if one should come from the
dead, we could not be so sure that we were no way imposed upon. We could not be
so sure that he who testified was not himself subject to some delusion. We could
not be sure that the matter was not strained too high, and represented greater
than it really is.
One coming from the dead
could not, merely by force of his own testimony, make us sure that we should
come to that place of torments if we did not repent and reform. And if there
should come more witnesses than one from the dead, if there should be ever so
many, yet there is no authority equal to that of God. There is no testimony of
spirits from the invisible world which would be so indisputable and
unquestionable as the divine testimony. How could we know, unless by some divine
revelation, that they who should come from the dead had not come to deceive us.
How could we know how wicked, or how good they were, and upon what views they
Whereas we have the greatest
ground to be assured, that the First Being, and the Fountain of all being and
perfection, is nothing but light and truth itself, and therefore that it is
impossible he should deceive or be deceived.
III. The warnings of God’s
Word have greatly the advantage, by reason of the greatness and majesty of him
who speaks. The speeches and declarations of those who are great, excellent, and
honorable, have a greater tendency to move the affections, than the declarations
of others who are less excellent. Things spoken by a king affect more than the
same things spoken by a mean man.
But God is infinitely
greater than kings; he is universal King of heaven and earth, the absolute
Sovereign of all things. Now, what can have a greater tendency to strike the
mind and move the heart, than to be warned by this great and glorious Being?
Shall we be unmoved when he speaks who made heaven and earth by the word of his
power? If his immediate speeches, declarations, and warning, will not influence
us, what will? Isa. 1:2, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord
hath spoken.” — That is to the present purpose which we have in Mat. 21:37,
“But last of all he sent his son, saying, They will reverence my son.” He
sent his servants before, but they did not regard them. He therefore, sent his
son, who was a much greater and more honorable messenger, and said Surely they
will regard him.
What if God should send
messengers from the dead to warn us, even many in succession, and men should
reject them. We should justly argue, that it would have a much greater tendency
to make men regard and obey the counsel, if he would send his Son, or come
himself. But God has sent his Son, and therein he hath come himself. He came
down from heaven, and took upon him our nature, and dwelt among us, teaching and
warning us concerning hell and damnation.
In the Bible, we not only
have those warnings which were given by inspiration of the prophets, but we have
God’s own words, which he spake as it were by his own mouth. In the Old
Testament is his voice out of the midst of the fire and the darkness, from mount
Sinai; and the New Testament, we have God speaking to us, as dwelling among us.
He came down from heaven, and instructed us in a familiar manner for a long
while. And we have his instructions recorded in our Bibles. — Now, which has
the greatest tendency to influence men, to have one of the departed spirits sent
back into its body to warn them, or to have God himself assume a body and warn
IV. It more evidently shows
the importance of the affair, that God should immediately concern himself in it,
than the coming of one from the dead would do. Those things about which kings
most immediately concern themselves are commonly matters of the greatest
importance, while they leave less concernments to be managed by their officers.
And surely that must be a matter of very great moment, in which God shows
himself so much concerned as he does in our salvation. God, in all ages of the
world, hath showed himself very much concerned in this matter. How abundantly
hath he warned us in his holy word? How earnest hath he shown himself in it! How
many arguments and expostulations hath he used, that we might avoid the way to
hell!-This evidently argues, that what we are warned about is a matter of the
utmost concern, and proves it much more than if we were only warned by one risen
from the dead.
V. God warning us of our
danger of damnation hath a greater tendency to have influence upon us, because
he is our Judge. Damnation is a punishment to which he condemns and which he
inflicts. What he warns us of is his own wrath and vengeance. In his word we
have his threatenings against sin denounced by himself. He tells us, that if we
go on in sin, he will destroy us, and cast us out of his sight, and pour out his
wrath upon us, and hold us eternally under misery. He tells us so himself; and
this hath a much greater tendency to influence us, than to be told so by
another, who is not to be our judge, who hath not in his hands the power of
making us miserable. — When a king immediately threatens his own displeasure,
it has a greater tendency to terrify men, than when another man threatens it, or
warns them of the danger.
VI. God is infinitely wise,
and knows better how to speak to us so as to persuade us, than one risen from
the dead. He perfectly knows our nature and state, and knows how to adapt his
instructions and warnings to our frame and circumstances in the world. And
without doubt that method which God has chosen, is agreeable to his infinite
wisdom, and most adapted to our nature.
If one should come from hell
to warn sinners, it may be he would tell them of hell in such a manner as would
have more of a tendency to drive men into despair, and set them a blaspheming as
they do in hell, than to excite them to strive for salvation, and diligently to
use the means which God hath appointed. But God knoweth what revelation of hell
we can bear, and what hath the most tendency to do us good in this our infirm,
dark, and sinful state. — The declarations of one come from hell might more
tend to drive us from God than to bring us near to him. It is best for us to be
warned and instructed by God, who knows best how to do it.
These are some of the
reasons why the warnings of God’s Word have more of a tendency to bring us to
repentance, than the warning of one risen from the dead.
I. It is a natural inference
from this doctrine, that if these means which God hath appointed do not answer
to lead men to repentance and reformation, no others would. — Although this be
not an absolutely necessary consequence from the words of the doctrine; yet it
seems to be Christ’s aim to teach us, that if God’s means will not answer,
none will. Our own means, those which we can devise, however they may seem more
likely at a distance to be effectual, if brought to the trial, will not prove to
be better. The rich man thought that if his brethren were warned by one rising
from the dead, they would surely repent. But Abraham tells him, he is mistaken.
If one rising from the dead
would not answer the purpose, we may rationally conclude that no other kind of
means, different from those appointed by God, would. For what can we think of,
which seems to have more tendency to awaken men, and lead to repentance, than
one coming from the dead to them; except those means which we enjoy. — Indeed
men can think of many means, which they may imagine, if they enjoyed them, would
make them believe and repent. But they deceive themselves.
It may be they think, if
they could see some prophet, and see him work miracles, that this would awaken
them. But how was it then when there were prophets? There has rarely been a more
degenerate time than that of Elijah and Elisha, who wrought so many miracles.
The people did not regard their prophecies nor their miracles; but walked in
their own ways, and served their own gods, so that Elijah thought there was none
left of the true worshippers of God. And how did they treat the prophet
Jeremiah, solemnly warning them from God of their approaching destruction? And
how often do the prophets complain that all their prophecies and warnings were
neglected and despised!
Would it be sufficient if
you could hear God speak from heaven? How was it in Moses’s time, when they
heard God speak out of the midst of the fire, and heard the voice of words
exceeding loud and full of majesty, so that they exceedingly trembled; when they
saw mount Sinai all covered with smoke, and shaking exceedingly? How did they
behave themselves? Did they all turn from their sins, and after that walk in the
ways of God? It is true, they were very much affected at first, while it was a
new and strange thing to them; but how hard-hearted and rebellious were they
soon after! They did not scruple to rebel against this same great and glorious
God. Yea, they made a golden calf while Moses was in the mount conversing with
God, just after they had seen those dreadful appearances of divine majesty.
Thus they rebelled against
the Lord, although they had seen so many miracles and wonders in Egypt at the
Red sea, and in the wilderness; although they continually saw the pillar of
cloud and of fire going before them, were continually fed in a miraculous manner
with manna, and in the same miraculous manner made to drink water out of the
Men are apt to think, that
if they had lived in Christ’s time, and had seen and heard him, and had seen
his miracles, that they would have effectually convinced and turned them from
sin. But how was it in fact? How few were there brought to repentance by all his
discourses and miracles! How hard-hearted were they! Some were very much
affected for a little while; but how few constant steady followers had he! He
was, notwithstanding his miracles, rejected, despised, and even murdered by the
people among whom he dwelt. And they were men of the same natures as sinners in
The Scripture is full of
instances, sufficient to convince us, that if the Word of God will not awaken
and convert sinners, nothing will. — And we see enough in these days to
convince us of it. Men sometimes meet with those things by which we should not
imagine, if we did not see it, and were not used to it, but that they would be
thoroughly awakened and reformed. — They sometimes hear the warnings of dying
men expecting to go to hell. One would think this would be enough to awaken
them; and it may be they are affected with it for the present. But it only
touches them. It vanishes away, and is gone like a puff of wind.
Sometimes sinners themselves
are laid upon beds of sickness, and their lives hang in doubt before them. They
are brought to the sides of the grave, and to the very mouth of hell, and their
hearts are full of terror and amazement. Yet if they recover, they soon forget
it, and return to the ways of folly and wickedness. — Sometimes this is
repeated; they are taken sick again, are again in extreme peril of death, their
hearts are full of amazement, and they make many promises and vows; yet being
recovered, they again soon forget all, and return to sin and folly. Such things
are enough to convince us, that if the Word of God be not sufficient to convince
men, and make them break off their sins, no external means would be sufficient.
Perhaps some may yet be
ready to think, that if sinners should see hell, and here the cries of the
damned, that would be effectual, though nothing else would. But if we duly
consider the matter, we shall see reason to think, that it would not have so
great a tendency to turn men from sin, as the Word of God. Such a thing would
doubtless be effectual to terrify and affright men, and probably to death.. Such
a mean is not at all suitable to our nature and state in the world. If it should
not fright men to death, it would not have so great a tendency to them to make
them diligently use means for their salvation as the warnings of Scripture. It
would probably drive them to despair; or so take away their spirits that they
would have no heart to seek God. Instead of driving them to God, it would
probably make them hate him more. It would make them more like devils; and set
them a blaspheming as the damned do. For while the hearts of men are filled with
natural darkness, they cannot see the glory of the divine justice appearing in
such extreme torments.
Therefore, the means which
God hath instituted for us, are doubtless the best, and most conducive to lead
men to repentance and salvation. They are doubtless far better than any other
which we can devise.
II. Hence we learn the
dreadful hardness of men’s hearts, since the Word of God hath no more
influence upon them, and they are no more moved and wrought upon by those means
which infinite wisdom hath provided. The warnings of the Word of God are, as you
have heard, better and more powerful means than if one should rise form the dead
to warn us, and tell us our danger, and the dreadfulness of the wrath of God.
You have also heard, that if these means will not answer the end of awakening
and leading sinners to repentance, no other will; neither the working of
miracles, nor the hearing of God speak with an audible voice from heaven, nor
anything else. — Yet how few are there who are effectually wrought upon by the
Word of God! They are very thinly sown; there is but here and there one.
When we read how the
children of Israel conducted themselves in the wilderness, how often they
murmured and offended; we are ready to wonder at the hardness of their hearts.
And when we read the history of Christ, and how the Jews hated and rejected him
notwithstanding his many miracles; we are ready to wonder how they could be so
hard-hearted. But we have as much reason to wonder at ourselves, for we have
naturally the same sort of hearts that they had. And sinners in these days
manifest a hardness of heart as much to be wondered at, in that they are not
influenced by the Word of God. For they who will not hear Moses and the
prophets, Jesus Christ and his apostles, neither would be persuaded, if one
should rise from the dead, or if an angel should come from heaven.
The best means of awakening
and conversion are plentifully enjoyed by us, much more plentifully in several
respects, than they were by those who had only Moses and the prophets. In the
first place, we have divine truth more fully revealed in the Bible than they had
then. Light now shines abundantly clear. Gospel-truth is revealed, not in types
and shadows, but plainly. Heaven and hell are much more clearly and expressly
made known. We are told, that the glory of that revelation was no glory in
comparison with the revelation of the gospel.
Again, we have a greater
plenty of Bibles than they had under the dispensation of Moses and the prophets.
Then there was no such thing as printing, and Bibles were scarce things. They
seldom had any Bibles anywhere else but in their synagogues. But now we have
them in our houses; we can look into them when we please. Besides Christ hath
appointed the gospel-ministry, by which we have the Word of God explained and
enforced every week. Yet how little influence hath the Word of God to bring men
Let this strike conviction
into those who never yet have found any such effect by the Word of God. Though
you are convinced of nothing else, yet you have abundant reason to be convinced
that your hearts are as hard as a stone, and that you are exceedingly stupid and
III. Hence we may learn how
justly and fairly God deals with us. He gives us the best means of awakening and
reclaiming us from our sins; better than if he had sent one from the dead to
warn us. He gives us those means which are most suited to our nature and
circumstances. He gives sinners abundant warning before he punishes them. What
could he have done more than he hath done? We can devise or imagine no sort of
warning which would have been better than what God hath given us. How justly
therefore are ungodly men punished! How inexcusable will they be!