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point of view. But if their thoughts are at any time forced inwards, and they cannot help taking a view of themselves, a deeper source of delusion is still behind. The same actions, which, when committed by others, are immediately discerned to be wrong, are palliated, explained, qualified, and apologized away, when we happen to be guilty of them ourselves. The circumstances in the two cases are discovered to be perfectly different in some essential points; our passions were ungovernable, the temptation irresistible. In short, somehow or other, all guilt vanishes away under the management of the dextrous casuist, and the intrusion of self-condemnation is effectually precluded.

Still there remains, it may be said, the admonition of some zealous friend or faithful instructor; but zeal is generally vehement, and often indiscreet. By exciting the resentment, and inflaming the anger of those it means to reform, it frequently defeats its own designs. For whoever is offended instantly forgets his own faults, and dwells wholly upon those of his imprudent monitor. But when the veil of parable conceals for a moment from the offender that he is himself concerned in it, he may generally be surprised into a condemnation of every one that is guilty of a base, dishonourable action; and when the unexpected application, Thou art the man, comes thundering suddenly upon him, and points out the perfect similarity of the supposed case to his own, the astonished criminal, overwhelmed with confusion, and driven from all his usual subterfuges and evasions, is compelled at length to condemn himself.

It was probably the consideration of these delusions, and the other reasons above assigned, which gave rise to so general and so ancient a custom of conveying moral instruction under the cover of imaginary agents and fictitious events. We find traces of it in the earliest writers; and it was more peculiarly cultivated in the east, the region where religion and science first took their rise. The most ancient parables perhaps on record, are those we meet with in the Old Testament; that of Jotham, for instance, where the trees desired the bramble to reign over them;* that of Nathan ; that of the woman of Tekoah,‡ in the reign of David; and that of the thistle and the cedar of Lebanon,|| by Jehoash, king of Israel. From the east, this species of composition passed into Greece and Italy, and thence into the rest of Europe; and there are two celebrated writers, one in the Greek, the other in the Ro

* Judges, ix. 14.

† 2 Sam. xii. 1. || 2 Kings xiv. 9.

+ 2 Sam. xiv.

man tongue, whose fables every one is acquainted with from their earliest years. These, it must be owned, are elegant, amusing, and, in a certain degree, moral and instructive. But they are not in any degree to be compared with the parables of our blessed Lord, which infinitely excel them, and every other composition of that species, in many essential points.

1. In the first place, the fables of the ancients are many of them of a very trivial nature, or at the best contain nothing more than maxims of mere worldly wisdom and common prudence, and sometimes perhaps a little moral instruction.

But the parables of our blessed Lord relate to subjects of the very highest importance; to the great leading principles of human conduct, to the essential duties of man, to the nature and progress of the Christian religion, to the moral government of the world, to the great distinctions between vice and virtue, to the awful scenes of eternity, to the divine influences of the Holy Spirit, to the great work of our redemption, to a resurrection and a future judgment, and the distribution of rewards and punishments in a future state; and all this expressed with a dignity of sentiment, and a simplicity of language, perfectly well suited to the grandeur of the subject.

2. In the next place, the fables of the learned heathens, though entertaining and well composed, are in general cold and dry, and calculated more to please the understanding than to touch the heart. Whereas those of our blessed Lord are most of them in the highest degree affecting and interesting. Such for instance are the parable of the lost sheep, of the prodigal son, of the rich man and Lazarus, of the Pharisee and Publican, of the unforgiving servant, of the good Samaritan. There is nothing in all heathen antiquity to be compared to these; nothing that speaks so forcibly to our tenderest feelings and affections, and leaves such deep and lasting impressions upon the soul.

3dly. The Greek and Roman fables are most of them founded on improbable or impossible circumstances, and are supposed conversations between animate or inanimate beings, not endowed with the power of speech; between birds, beasts, reptiles, and trees; a circumstance which shocks the imagination, and of course weakens the force of the instruction.

Our Saviour's parables on the contrary are all of them images and allusions taken from nature, and from occurrences which are most familiar to our observation and experience in common life; and the events related are not only such as might very probably happen, but several of them are supposed to be such as actually did; and this would have the effect of a true

historical narrative, which we all know to carry much greater weight and authority with it than the most ingenious fiction. Of the former sort are the rich man and Lazarus, of the good Samaritan, and of the prodigal son. There are others in which our Saviour seems to allude to some historical facts which happened in those times; as that wherein it is said, that a king went into a far country, there to receive a kingdom.

This probably refers to the history of Archelaus, who, after the death of his father, Herod the Great, went to Rome to receive from Augustus the confirmation of his father's will, by which he had the kingdom of Judea left to him.

These circumstances give a decided superiority to our Lord's parables over the fables of the ancients; and if we compare them with those of the Koran, the difference is still greater. The parables of Mahomet are trifling; uninteresting, tedious, and dull. Among other things which he has borrowed from Scripture, one is the parable of Nathan, in which he has most ingeniously contrived to destroy all its spirit, force, and beauty; and has so completely distorted and deformed its whole texture and composition, that if the commentator had not informed you, in very gentle terms, that it is the parable of Nathan a little disguised, you would scarce have known it to be the same. Such is the difference between a prophet who is really inspired, and an imposter who pretends to be so. Nor is it only in his parables, but in his other discourses to the people, that Jesus draws his doctrines and instructions from the scenes of nature, from the objects that surrounded him, from the most common occurrences of life, from the seasons of the year, from some extraordinary incidents or remarkable transactions. "Thus," as a learned and ingenious writer has observed,* upon curing a blind man, "he styles himself the light of the world, and reproves the Pharisees for their spiritual blindness and inexcusable obstinacy in refusing to be cured and enlightened by him. On little children being brought to him, he recommends the innocence, the simplicity, the meekness, the humility, the docility, of that lovely age, as indispensable qualifications for those that would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Beholding the flowers of the field, and the fowls of the air, he teaches his disciples to frame right and worthy notions of that Providence which supports and adorns them, and will therefore assuredly not neglect the superior order of rational beings. Observing the fruits of the earth, he instructs them to judge of men by their fruitfulness

* See Bishop Law's Considerations on the Theory of Religion.

under all the means of grace. From the mention of meat and drink, he leads them to the sacred rite of eating his body and drinking his blood in a spiritual sense. From external ablutions, he deduces the necessity of purifying the heart, and cleansing the affections. Those that were fishers, he teaches to be fishers of men; to draw them by the force of argument and persuasion, aided by the influence of divine grace, to the belief and practice of true religion. Seeing the money-changers, he exhorts his disciples to lay out their several talents to the best advantage. Being among the sheep-folds, he proves himself the true shepherd of Souls. Among vines he discourses of the spiritual husbandmen and vine-dresser, and draws a parallel between his vineyard and the natural one. Upon the appearance of summer in the trees before him, he points out evident signs of his approaching kingdom. When the harvest comes on, he reminds his disciples of the spiritual harvest, the harvest of true believers; and exhorts them to labour diligently in that work, and add their prayers to Heaven for its success. From servants being made free in the sabbatical year, he takes occasion to proclaim a nobler emancipation and more important redemption from the slavery of sin, and the bondage of corruption, by the death of Christ. From the eminence of a city standing on a hill, he turns his discourse to the conspicuous situation of his own disciples. From the temple before him, he points to that of his own body; and from Herod's unadvisedly leading out his army to meet the king of Arabia, who came against him with a superior force, and defeated him, a lesson is held out to all who entered on the Christian warfare, that they should first well weigh and carefully compute the difficulties attending it, and by the grace of God resolve to surmount them."

In the same manner when he delivered the parable of the sower, which we find in this chapter, and which will be the next subject of our consideration, it was probably seed-time, and from the ship in which he taught he might observe the husbandmen scattering their seed upon the earth. From thence he took occasion to illustrate, by that rural and familiar image, the different effects which the doctrines of Christianity had on different men, according to the different tempers and dispositions that they happened to meet with.

"Behold," says he, "a sower went forth to sow. And when he sowed, some fell by the way-side, and the fowls came and devoured it up. Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth; and when the sun was up they

were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundred fold, some sixty fold, some thirty fold." As our blessed Lord, soon after he had uttered this parable, explained it to his disciples, it is highly proper that you should have this explanation in his own words. "Hear ye, therefore," says he, "the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth awav that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way-side. But he that received seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word and anon with joy receiveth it; yet he hath not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns, is he that heareth the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground, is he that heareth the word and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Such is the parable of the sower, and the explanation of it by our Saviour, which will furnish us with abundant matter for a great variety of very important reflections. But as these cannot be distinctly stated and sufficiently enlarged upon at present, without going to a considerable length of time, and trespassing too far on that patience and indulgence which I have already but too often put to the test, I must reserve for my next Lecture the observations I have to offer on this very interesting and instructive parable.

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