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to excess, becomes in some degree criminal; it produces, or at least increases a frivolous turn of mind; unfits us for the discharge of any thing manly and serious; and indicates a degree of levity and thoughtlessness not very consistent with a just sense of those important interests, which as candidates for heaven we should have constantly present to our thoughts, nor suitable to those awful prospects into eternity which the Christian revelation opens to our view, and which ought to make the most serious impressions on every sincere believer in the Gospel of Christ.



We are now arrived at the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew, in which our blessed Lord introduces a new mode of conveying his instructions to the people. Hitherto he had confined himself entirely to the plain didactic method, of which his sermon on the mount is a large and noble specimen. But his discourses now assume a different shape, and he begins in this chapter, for the first time, to address his hearers in parables. "The same day," says the evangelist, "went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea-side; and great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship and sate; and the whole multitude stood on the shore, and he spake many things unto them in parables."

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


1. In the first place, when divine and spiritual things are represented by object 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 hath 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 referring 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 ;* 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 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 tra

* Matth. v. 43.

ditions would have risen up in arms against so offensive a doctrine; nor would all the eloquence in the world, not even the divine eloquence of the Son of God himself, have been able to subdue the deep-rooted prepossessions of the obstinate Jew.

Jesus, therefore, well knowing the impossibility of convincing the lawyer by any thing he could say, determined to make the man convince himself, and correct his own error. With this view he relates to hun 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 neighbours, they 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 and humble itself in the dust, 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 lull his conscience to sleep, and to suppress the risings of any painful reflection in his mind. This appears almost incredible, yet so the fact seems to have been; and it 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. When we see a man who had perpetrated such atrocious deeds, totally insensible of his guilt, and not discovering the slightest resemblance to his own case in the affecting and awakening story which the prophet related, it affords a striking and a melancholy proof what human nature is when left to itself, even in the best of men; even in those who, like King David, are, in the general tenor of their life, actuated by right principles, and even animated (as he evidently was) with the warmest sentiments of piety and devotion. And it demonstrates in the

clearest manner the absolute necessity of that help from above in the discharge of our duty, which the Christian revelation holds out to us, and which men of the world are so apt to despise and deride as a weak delusion and fanatical imagination; I mean the divine influences of the Holy Spirit: without which there is not a single individual here present, 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 temptation, into as much guilt, and become as blind to his own situation, as was that unhappy prince of whom we are now speaking.

It was indispensably necessary to rouse the sinner out of this dreadful lethargy; but how was this to be done? Had Nathan plainly and directly charged him with all the enormity of his guilt, the probability is, that either in the first transport of his resentment, he would have driven the prophet from his presence, or that he would have attempted to palliate, to soften, to explain away his crime; would have pleaded the strength of his passion, or the violence of the temptation, and perhaps claimed some indulgence of his rank and situation in life. But all these pleas were at once silenced, and his retreat completely cut off, by making him the judge of his own case, and forcing his condemnation out of his own mouth. For after he had denounced death on the rich man for taking away the ewe lamb of the poor one, he could with no decency pretend that he who had destroyed the life of one fellow-creature, and the innocence of another, was deserving of a milder sentence.

There was nothing then left for him but to confess at once, as he did, "that he had sinned against the Lord;" and his penitence we know was as severe and exemplary as his crime had been atrocious.

It is much to be lamented, that these indirect methods should be found necessary, in order to show men to themselves, and acquaint them with their real characters, especially when it is their own interest not to be mistaken in so important a concern. But the wise and the virtuous in every age have condescended to make use of this innocent artifice; the necessity of which is founded in the sad corruption of human nature, and in that gross and deplorable blindness to their own sins and follies, which is observable in so large a part of mankind. They engage with warmth and eagerness in worldly pursuits, which employ their attention and excite their passions; so that they have little time, and less inclination, to reflect calmly and seriously on their own conduct, in a moral and religious

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