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cause, why the word of God can produce no good effect upon the minds and manners of men ; indeed they are the most common, the most deceitful, the most prevalent, and the most pernicious,of all temptations. They are those pleasures of life, which are called the works of the flesh,--as intemperance, and debauchery of every kind, which depress and sink the soul in sensuality, and entirely alienate it from God and goodness : they are also those pleasures, which though they are not directly and essentially vicious, yet are inlets and incentives to vice, such as the conveniences of life, and the objects agreeable to the senses, when they are too studiously sought after and collected, and too much indulged, a circle of perpetual amusements, and an immoderate pursuit of vain diversions. These are bad instructors, which teach men to banish serious thoughts to neglect their duty to God and to their neighbour, and even their own calling, and their private concerns, and their temporal welfare, to live in perpetual dissipation, to connect themselves with loose and profligate persons, and to run into expenses which they cannot afford: and hence arise temptations to a sad variety of follies and vices, the portion of those who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. To this our Saviour adds, the lusting after other things,' namely desires of mag. nificence and splendour, of flattery and popular applause, of power and pre-eminence, and, in a word, immoderate affections for any thing that is temporal and transitory.
From this melancholy scene, presented to us in the review of persons deaf to the voice of Reason and to the calls of the Gospel, seeking their own destruction, and walking in thoughtless unconcern, till darkness overwhelms them,-let us turn our consideration to the fourth sort of hearers, mentioned with applause by our Saviour, and described under the similitude of good ground. Other seed fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit; some, a hundred fold; some, sixty fold; some, thirty fold. He that received seed into the good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it, and receiveth it into a good and honest heart, which also beareth fruit with patience, and bringeth forth, some a hundred fold; some thirty; some sixty.'
In this parable there is a beautiful gradation, from the bad to the good. The seed which fell on the high-way, comes not up at all; the seed upon stony ground comes up, but soon
withereth away ; the seed sown amongst thorns, springs up and grows, and bears no fruit; the seed sown in good ground, brings forth fruit in its season, but yet in various degrees; and much more plentiful in some soils, than in others.
Ground which disappointeth not the sower, and bringeth forth fruit in its season, is naturally good, and is improved by culture. The heart of every well-disposed person is such. God hath given to all of us abilities, and power to exert them; he hath also to us Christians superadded his revealed will in the Gospel; and what aid is necessary, that he is ever ready to bestow : but a man must put forth his own strength, and seek out and work out his own salvation. The persons, therefore, here described, act like rational creatures; they have a love of knowledge and goodness, and a desire to make improvements in both. Thence they are disposed to enquire into themselves and their duty; and opportunities for this are never wanting: morality and revealed religion lie within their reach, and they may read or hear, what God requires from them. They hear the word and understand it,' says our Lord; they lay it to heart, and call it to mind ; they meditate upon the benefits arising from it, the danger of neglecting it, the reasonable and amiable nature of it, the dangers, inconveniences and temptations which may arise and assault them, the proper methods of shunning or resisting them, and the wisdom of preferring eternal life to all other considerations. Such is the fair foundation laid for a regular course of life, and an honest discharge of Christian duties.
Some difficulties will occur, some trials will arise, from within and without; some spots and blemishes, some faults and defects, will always accompany men in their religious progress : but they who have an honest mind, and an habitual probity, if they fall
, yet rise again; if they transgress, they repent; and in the main are obedient and dutiful, human weaknesses excepted. And this is patience and perseverance,' which are mentioned as the distinguishing marks of those, who receive the word of God and keep it.
How can we better close our remarks on this subject, than with the serious and solemn admonition with which our viour concludes : he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.' Which is as if our Lord had said, “What I have delivered to you, is not a discourse to amuse and entertain you, not a
point of curiosity and speculation, not an ordinary and indifferent affair, which will be of small consequence to you, whether you attend to it or disregard it, whether you recollect it or forget it. It is of unspeakable importance, and nothing less than your eternal happiness or misery depends upon it. As you make a good or bad use of my exhortations and instructions, you will be acquitted or condemned, when I come to judgement. Therefore be wise, and remember.'
[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.] The word parable is sometimes used in Scripture in a large and general sense, and applied to short sententious sayings, maxims, or aphorisms, expressed in a figurative, proverbial, or even poetical manner. But in its strict and appropriate meaning, especially as applied to our Saviour's parables, it signifies a short narrative of some event or fact, real or fictitious, in which a continued comparison is carried on between sensible and spiritual objects ; and under this similitude some important doctrine, moral or religious, is conveyed and enforced.
This mode of instruction has many advantages over every other, more particularly in recommending virtue, or reproving vice.
1. In the first place, when divine and spiritual things are represented by objects well known and familiar to us, such as present themselves perpetually to our observation, in the common occurrences of life, they are much more easily comprehended, especially by rude and uncultivated minds (that is, by the great bulk of mankind) than if they were proposed in their original form.
2. In all ages of the world, there is nothing with which mankind has been so much delighted, as with those little fictitious stories, which go under the name of fables or apologues among
the ancient heathens, and of parables in the sacred writings. It is found by experience, that this sort of composition is better calculated to command attention, to captivate the imagination, to affect the heart, and to make deeper and more lasting impressions on the memory, than the most ingenious and most elegant discourses that the wit of man is capable of producing.
3. The very obscurity in which parables are sometimes involved, has the effect of exciting a greater degree of curiosity and interest, and of urging the mind to a more vigorous exertion of its faculties and powers, than any other mode of instruction. There is something for the understanding to work upon; and when the concealed meaning is at length elicited, we are apt to value ourselves on the discovery as the effect of our own penetration and discernment, and for that very reason to pay more regard to the moral it conveys.
4. When the mind is under the influence of strong prejudices, of violent passions, or inveterate habits, and when under these circumstances it becomes necessary to rectify error, to dissipate delusion, to reprove sin, and bring the offender to a sense of his danger and his guilt; there is no way in which this difficult task can be so well executed, and the painful truths that must be told, so successfully insinuated into the mind, as by disguising them under the veil of a well-wrought and interesting parable.
This observation cannot be better illustrated than by refering to two parables, one in the New Testament, the other in the Old, which will amply confirm the truth, and unfold the meaning of the preceding remarks.
The first of these which I allude to, is the celebrated parable of the good Samaritan.
The Jews, as we learn from our Lord himself, had established it as a maxim, that they were to love their neighbour and to hate their enemy;' (Matt. v. 43.] and as they considered none as their neighbours but their own countrymen, the consequence was, that they imagined themselves at liberty to hate all the rest of the world; a liberty which they indulged without reserve, and against none with more bitterness than the contiguous nation of the Samaritans. When, therefore, the lawyer in the Gospel asked our Lord, Who was his neighbour,—had Christ attempted to prove to him by argument that VOL. I.
he was to consider all mankind, even his enemies, even the Samaritans, as his neighbours,--the lawyer would have treated his answer with contempt and disdain ; all his native prejudices and absurd traditions would have risen up in arms against so offensive a doctrine : Jesus, therefore, determined to make the man convince himself, and correct his own error. With this view, he relates to him the parable of the Jewish traveller, who fell among robbers, was stripped and wounded, and left half dead upon the spot; and, though passed by with unfeeling indifference and neglect by his own countrymen, was, at length, relieved and restored to health by a compassionate Samaritan. He then asks the lawyer, Who was neighbour to this distressed traveller ?-It was impossible for the lawyer not to answer, as he did not foreseeing the consequence), “He that showed mercy to him,' that is, the Samaritan. Here then he at once cut up his own absurd opinion by the roots. For if the Samaritans, whom of all others the Jews most hated, were in the true and substantial sense of the word, their neighboursthey were bound by their own law, by their own traditions, and by this man's own confession, to love and to assist them as such. The conclusion was therefore, “Go and do thou likewise.'
This then affords a striking proof of the efficacy of parable, in correcting strong prejudices and erroneous opinions. But there is another thing still more difficult to be subdued, and that is, inveterate wickedness and hardened guilt. But this too was made to give way by the force of parable; I mean that of Nathan.
There seems reason to believe that King David, after he had committed the complicated crime of adultery and murder, had, by some means or other, contrived to suppress the risings of any painful reflection in his mind. This shows in the strongest light the extreme deceitfulness of sin, its astonishing power over the mind of man, and the inveterate depravity of the human heart. And it demonstrates in the clearest manner the absolute necessity of the divine influences of the Holy Spirit : without which, there is not a single individual, however highly he
may think of the natural rectitude and invincible integrity of his own mind, who may not, in an evil hour, when he least thinks of it, be betrayed, by some powerful and unexpected