But if it were a literal history, nothing could be gained for the terrible doctrine of endless torment. It would oblige us to believe in literal fire after death but there is not a word to show that such fire would never go out. We have heard it claimed that the punishment of the rich man must be endless, because there was gulf (chasm, chasma) fixed so that those who desired to could not cross it. But were this a literal account, it would not follow that the gulf would last always.
For are we not assured that the time is coming when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hiss shall be made low?" Isa. 30: 4. When every valley is exalted what becomes of the great gulf? And then there is exalted, what said of the duration of the sufferings of the rich man. If the account be a history it must not militate against the promise of "The restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all God's holy prophets since the world began." There is not a word intimating that the rich man's torment was never to cease. So the doctrine of endless misery is after all, not in the least taught here. The most that can be claimed is that the consequences of sin extend into the future life, and that is a doctrine that we believe just as strongly as can any one, though we do not believe they will be endless, nor do we believe the doctrine taught in this parable, nor in the Bible use of the word Hell.
But allowing for a moment that this is intended to represent a scene in the spirit world, what a representation we have! Dives is dwelling in a world of fire in the company of lost spirits, hardened by the depravity that must possess the residents of that world, and yet yearning in compassion for those on earth. Not totally depraved, not harboring evil thoughts but benevolent, humane. Instead of being loyal to the wicked world in which he dwells as anyone bad enough to go there should be, he actually tries to prevent migration Thither from earth, while Lazarus is entirely indifferent to everybody but himself. Dives seems to have more mercy and compassion than does Lazarus.
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