Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 21: "A Great Gulf Fixed"
Based on Luke 16:19-31
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Christ
shows that in this life men decide their eternal destiny.
During probationary time the grace of God is offered to
every soul. But if men waste their opportunities in
self-pleasing, they cut themselves off from everlasting life.
No afterprobation will be granted them. By their own choice
they have fixed an impassable gulf between them and their
|Lazarus Begging.—Davis Collection.|
This parable draws a contrast between the rich who
have not made God their dependence, and the poor who
have made God their dependence. Christ shows that
the time is coming when the position of the two classes will
be reversed. Those who are poor in this world's goods,
yet who trust in God and are patient in suffering, will one
day be exalted above those who now hold the highest
positions the world can give but who have not surrendered
their life to God.
"There was a certain rich man," Christ said, "which
was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously
every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, [p. 261] 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."
The rich man did not belong to the class represented
by the unjust judge, who openly declared his disregard for
God and man. He claimed to be a son of Abraham. He
did not treat the beggar with violence or require him to go
away because the sight of him was disagreeable. If the
poor, loathsome specimen of humanity could be comforted
by beholding him as he entered his gates, the rich man
was willing that he should remain. But he was selfishly
indifferent to the needs of his suffering brother.
There were then no hospitals in which the sick might be
cared for. The suffering and needy were brought to the
notice of those to whom the Lord had entrusted wealth,
that they might receive help and sympathy. Thus it was
with the beggar and the rich man. Lazarus was in great
need of help; for he was without friends, home, money, or
food. Yet he was allowed to remain in this condition day
after day, while the wealthy nobleman had every want
supplied. The one who was abundantly able to relieve the
sufferings of his fellow creature, lived to himself, as many
There are today close beside us many who are hungry,
naked, and homeless. A neglect to impart of our means
to these needy, suffering ones places upon us a burden of
guilt which we shall one day fear to meet. All covetousness
is condemned as idolatry. All selfish indulgence is an
offense in God's sight.
God had made the rich man a steward of His means,
and it was his duty to attend to just such cases as that of
the beggar. The command had been given, "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all
thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:5); and "thou
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18). The [p. 262] rich man was a Jew, and he was acquainted with the
command of God. But he forgot that he was accountable for
the use of his entrusted means and capabilities. The Lord's
blessings rested upon him abundantly, but he employed
them selfishly, to honor himself, not his Maker. In proportion
to his abundance was his obligation to use his gifts for
the uplifting of humanity. This was the Lord's command,
but the rich man had no thought of his obligation to God.
He lent money, and took interest for what he loaned; but he
returned no interest for what God had lent him. He had
knowledge and talents, but did not improve them.
Forgetful of his accountability to God, he devoted all his
powers to pleasure. Everything with which he was
surrounded, his round of amusements, the praise and flattery
of his friends, ministered to his selfish enjoyment. So
engrossed was he in the society of his friends that he lost
all sense of his responsibility to co-operate with God in
His ministry of mercy. He had opportunity to understand
the word of God, and to practice its teachings; but the
pleasure-loving society he chose so occupied his time that
he forgot the God of eternity.
The time came when a change took place in the
condition of the two men. The poor man had suffered day
by day, but he had patiently and quietly endured. In the
course of time he died and was buried. There was no one
to mourn for him; but by his patience in suffering he had
witnessed for Christ, he had endured the test of his faith,
and at his death he is represented as being carried by the
angels into Abraham's bosom.
Lazarus represents the suffering poor who believe in
Christ. When the trumpet sounds and all that are in the
graves hear Christ's voice and come forth, they will receive
their reward; for their faith in God was not a mere theory,
but a reality. [p. 263]
"The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell
he lift 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."
In this parable Christ was meeting the people on
their own ground. The doctrine of a conscious state of
existence between death and the resurrection was held by
many of those who were listening to Christ's words. The
Saviour knew of their ideas, and He framed His parable so
as to inculcate important truths through these preconceived
opinions. He held up before His hearers a mirror wherein
they might see themselves in their true relation to God.
He used the prevailing opinion to convey the idea He
wished to make prominent to all—that no man is valued
for his possessions; for all he has belongs to him only as
lent by the Lord. A misuse of these gifts will place him
below the poorest and most afflicted man who loves God
and trusts in Him.
Christ desires His hearers to understand that it is
impossible for men to secure the salvation of the soul after
death. "Son," Abraham is represented as answering,
"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 beside all this,
between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; so that
they which would pass from hence to you can not; neither
can they pass to us, that would come from thence." Thus
Christ represented the hopelessness of looking for a second
probation. This life is the only time given to man in which
to prepare for eternity.
The rich man had not abandoned the idea that he was
a child of Abraham, and in his distress he is represented as [p. 264] calling upon him for aid. "Father Abraham," he prayed,
"have mercy on me." He did not pray to God, but to
Abraham. Thus he showed that he placed Abraham above
God, and that he relied on his relationship to Abraham
for salvation. The thief on the cross offered his prayer
to Christ. "Remember me when Thou comest into Thy
kingdom," he said. (Luke 23:42.) And at once the response
came, Verily I say unto thee today (as I hang on the cross
in humiliation and suffering), thou shalt be with Me in
Paradise. But the rich man prayed to Abraham, and his
petition was not granted. Christ alone is exalted to be "a
Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and
forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31. "Neither is there salvation
in any other." Acts 4:12.
The rich man had spent his life in self-pleasing, and too
late he saw that he had made no provision for eternity.
He realized his folly, and thought of his brothers, who
would go on as he had gone, living to please themselves.
Then he made the request, "I pray thee therefore, father,
that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] 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." But
"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 the dead."
When the rich man solicited additional evidence for his
brothers, he was plainly told that should this evidence be
given, they would not be persuaded. His request cast a
reflection on God. It was as if the rich man had said, If
you had more thoroughly warned me, I should not now be
here. Abraham in his answer to this request is represented [p. 265] as saying, Your brothers have been sufficiently warned.
Light has been given them, but they would not see; truth
has been presented to them, but they would not hear.
"If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will
they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." These
words were proved true in the history of the Jewish nation.
Christ's last and crowning miracle was the raising of
Lazarus of Bethany, after he had been dead four days. The
Jews were given this wonderful evidence of the Saviour's
divinity, but they rejected it. Lazarus rose from the dead
and bore his testimony before them, but they hardened their
hearts against all evidence, and even sought to take his life.
The law and the prophets are God's appointed agencies
for the salvation of men. Christ said, Let them give heed to
these evidences. If they do not listen to the voice of God
in His word, the testimony of a witness raised from the
dead would not be heeded.
Those who heed Moses and the prophets will require no
greater light than God has given; but if men reject the
light, and fail to appreciate the opportunities granted them,
they would not hear if one from the dead should come to
them with a message. They would not be convinced even
by this evidence; for those who reject the law and the
prophets so harden their hearts that they will reject all light.
The conversation between Abraham and the once-rich
man is figurative. The lesson to be gathered from it is
that every man is given sufficient light for the discharge
of the duties required of him. Man's responsibilities are
proportionate to his opportunities and privileges. God gives
to every one sufficient light and grace to do the work He
has given him to do. If man fails to do that which a little
light shows to be his duty, greater light would only reveal
unfaithfulness, neglect to improve the blessings given. "He [p. 266] that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in
much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also
in much." Luke 16:10. Those who refuse to be enlightened
by Moses and the prophets and ask for some wonderful
miracle to be performed would not be convinced if their
wish were granted.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus shows how the
two classes represented by these men are estimated in the
unseen world. There is no sin in being rich if riches
are not acquired by injustice. A rich man is not condemned
for having riches, but condemnation rests upon him if the
means entrusted to him is spent in selfishness. Far better
might he lay up his money beside the throne of God, by
using it to do good. Death cannot make any man poor
who thus devotes himself to seeking eternal riches. But the
man who hoards his treasure for self can not take any of
it to heaven. He has proved himself to be an unfaithful
steward. During his lifetime he had his good things, but he
was forgetful of his obligation to God. He failed of
securing the heavenly treasure.
The rich man who had so many privileges is represented
to us as one who should have cultivated his gifts, so that
his works should reach to the great beyond, carrying with
them improved spiritual advantages. It is the purpose of
redemption, not only to blot out sin, but to give back to
man those spiritual gifts lost because of sin's dwarfing
power. Money cannot be carried into the next life; it is
not needed there; but the good deeds done in winning souls
to Christ are carried to the heavenly courts. But those who
selfishly spend the Lord's gifts on themselves, leaving their
needy fellow creatures without aid and doing nothing to
advance God's work in the world, dishonor their Maker.
Robbery of God is written opposite their names in the books
of heaven. [p. 267]
The rich man had all that money could procure, but he
did not possess the riches that would have kept his account
right with God. He had lived as if all that he possessed
were his own. He had neglected the call of God and the
claims of the suffering poor. But at length there comes a
call which he cannot neglect. By a power which he cannot
question or resist he is commanded to quit the premises
of which he is no longer steward. The once-rich man is
reduced to hopeless poverty. The robe of Christ's righteousness,
woven in the loom of heaven, can never cover him.
He who once wore the richest purple, the finest linen, is
reduced to nakedness. His probation is ended. He
brought nothing into the world, and he can take nothing
out of it.
Christ lifted the curtain and presented this picture
before priests and rulers, scribes and Pharisees. Look at it,
you who are rich in this world's goods and are not rich
toward God. Will you not contemplate this scene? That
which is highly esteemed among men is abhorrent in the
sight of God. Christ asks, "What shall it profit a man, if
he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or
what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Mark
Application to the Jewish Nation
When Christ gave the parable of the rich man and
Lazarus, there were many in the Jewish nation in the
pitiable condition of the rich man, using the Lord's goods for
selfish gratification, preparing themselves to hear the
sentence, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found
wanting." Dan. 5:27. The rich man was favored with
every temporal and spiritual blessing, but he refused to
cooperate with God in the use of these blessings. Thus it was
with the Jewish nation. The Lord had made the Jews the
depositaries of sacred truth. He had appointed them [p. 268] stewards of His grace. He had given them every spiritual and
temporal advantage, and He called upon them to impart
these blessings. Special instruction had been given them
in regard to their treatment of their brethren who had
fallen into decay, of the stranger within their gates, and of
the poor among them. They were not to seek to gain everything
for their own advantage, but were to remember those
in need and share with them. And God promised to bless
them in accordance with their deeds of love and mercy. But
like the rich man, they put forth no helping hand to relieve
the temporal or spiritual necessities of suffering humanity.
Filled with pride, they regarded themselves as the chosen
and favored people of God; yet they did not serve or
worship God. They put their dependence in the fact that they
were children of Abraham. "We be Abraham's seed," they
said proudly. (John 8:33.) When the crisis came, it was
revealed that they had divorced themselves from God,
and had placed their trust in Abraham, as if he were God.
Christ longed to let light shine into the darkened minds
of the Jewish people. He said to them, "If ye were
Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
But now ye seek to kill Me, a man that hath told you the
truth, which I have heard of God. This did not Abraham."
Christ recognized no virtue in lineage. He taught that
spiritual connection supersedes all natural connection. The
Jews claimed to have descended from Abraham; but by
failing to do the works of Abraham, they proved that
they were not his true children. Only those who prove
themselves to be spiritually in harmony with Abraham by
obeying the voice of God, are reckoned as of true descent.
Although the beggar belonged to the class looked upon
by men as inferior, Christ recognized him as one whom
Abraham would take into the very closest friendship. [p. 269]
The rich man though surrounded with all the luxuries
of life was so ignorant that he put Abraham where God
should have been. If he had appreciated his exalted
privileges and had allowed God's Spirit to mold his mind and
heart, he would have had an altogether different position.
So with the nation he represented. If they had responded
to the divine call, their future would have been wholly
different. They would have shown true spiritual discernment.
They had means which God would have increased, making
it sufficient to bless and enlighten the whole world. But
they had so far separated from the Lord's arrangement that
their whole life was perverted. They failed to use their
gifts as God's stewards in accordance with truth and
righteousness. Eternity was not brought into their reckoning,
and the result of their unfaithfulness was ruin to the whole
Christ knew that at the destruction of Jerusalem the
Jews would remember His warning. And it was so. When
calamity came upon Jerusalem, when starvation and suffering
of every kind came upon the people, they remembered
these words of Christ and understood the parable. They
had brought their suffering upon themselves by their
neglect to let their God-given light shine forth to the world.
In the Last Days
The closing scenes of this earth's history are portrayed
in the closing of the rich man's history. The rich man
claimed to be a son of Abraham, but he was separated
from Abraham by an impassable gulf—a character wrongly
developed. Abraham served God, following His word in
faith and obedience. But the rich man was unmindful of
God and of the needs of suffering humanity. The great
gulf fixed between him and Abraham was the gulf of [p. 270] disobedience. There are many today who are following the
same course. Though church members, they are unconverted.
They may take part in the church service, they may
chant the psalm, "As the hart panteth after the water
brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God" (Ps. 42:1);
but they testify to a falsehood. They are no more righteous
in God's sight than is the veriest sinner. The soul that
longs after the excitement of worldly pleasure, the mind
that is full of love for display, cannot serve God. Like the
rich man in the parable, such a one has no inclination to war
against the lust of the flesh. He longs to indulge appetite.
He chooses the atmosphere of sin. He is suddenly snatched
away by death, and he goes down to the grave with the
character formed during his lifetime in copartnership with
Satanic agencies. In the grave he has no power to choose
anything, be it good or evil; for in the day when a man
dies, his thoughts perish. (Ps. 146:4; Eccl. 9:5, 6.)
When the voice of God awakes the dead, he will come
from the grave with the same appetites and passions, the
same likes and dislikes, that he cherished when living. God
works no miracle to re-create a man who would not be
re-created when he was granted every opportunity and
provided with every facility. During his lifetime he took
no delight in God, nor found pleasure in His service. His
character is not in harmony with God, and he could not
be happy in the heavenly family.
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copy of this enlightening book about the parables of Christ.
Today there is a class in our world who are
self-righteous. They are not gluttons, they are not drunkards,
they are not infidels; but they desire to live for themselves,
not for God. He is not in their thoughts; therefore they
are classed with unbelievers. Were it possible for them
to enter the gates of the city of God, they could have no
right to the tree of life, for when God's commandments
were laid before them with all their binding claims they [p. 271] said, No. They have not served God here; therefore
they would not serve Him hereafter. They could not live
in His presence, and they would feel that any place was
preferable to heaven.
To learn of Christ means to receive His grace, which is
His character. But those who do not appreciate and utilize
the precious opportunities and sacred influences granted
them on earth, are not fitted to take part in the pure
devotion of heaven. Their characters are not molded according
to the divine similitude. By their own neglect they have
formed a chasm which nothing can bridge. Between them
and the righteous there is a great gulf fixed.
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"Saying and Doing"