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was meant our Saviour's instructing men in the great concerns of religion, and by the effect of the seeds being sown, the various influence of his instructions upon their minds. It is also further to be observed, that our Lord's putting the question to his disciples, Know ye not this parable ? plainly intimates, that whatever obscurity there was in the parable, it was possible for them to understand the general meaning of it: and therefore, if it had not been for the depravity of these people's hearts, it would have been possible for them also to understand it. But although a further explanation of it was necessary, his forbearing to give it was but a just expression of his displeasure at their treatment of the plain truths he had delivered to them on the morning of that day: and so they were naturally led to read their crime in their punishment. Upon the whole, therefore, it must be acknowledged, the general intent of the parable being apprehended, that the method our Saviour took to lay open the characters of his hearers, was most fit, natural, and easy.

Here it will be proper to inquire more particularly into the grounds and reasons of this mode of instruction, that we may be enabled to account for our Saviour's frequent use of parables, that we may be assisted in the interpreting them, and that we may be guarded against the wanton abuse of allegory, too common among some people in discourses on religious subjects.

The word Parable, as appears from its derivation, signifies a similitude or comparison. It is sometimes applied to an apologue or fable, that is, a story contrived to teach some moral truth: and sometimes it is put for a proverb, which is a parabolical representation comprised in a short sentence. This mode of instruction is familiar and pleasant. Sensible objects may very properly be considered as images of spiritual and invisible things; and by this use of them we are assisted in our conceptions and reasonings about matters, of which we should otherwise have scarce any idea at all, by substituting one person in the room of another; or by relating a story apposite to our purpose, we are enabled to place certain characters and actions is a striking point of light, and to treat them with a freedom which in a plain direct address would scarcely be reconcileable with prudence and delicacy.


The advantages accruing from this mode of instruction, wisely managed, are so considerable that it has obtained by universal consent in all ages. It was used by the ancient prophets, the eastern sages, and the Jewish doctors. And it is obvious that our Saviour had various inducements to this practice. Beside the consideration that it added beauty and vigour to his discourses, and rendered them more agreeable to a people accustomed to this manner of speaking, it enabled him to throw a veil over some things which it was not fit to declare in express terms. Many events were to take place which, in the ordinary course of things, would have been obstructed had our Lord openly and plainly foretold them; such as his being put to death by the Jews, the destruction of their polity and worship, and the of the gospel among the Gentiles. And then, as to the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, the full explanation of them being reserved, for wise purposes, to the preaching of the apostles, this parabolical mode of instruction was the fittest to convey that degree of light concerning them, which was judged most proper during the term of our Saviour's own personal ministry. Hence he tells his disciples a little before his last sufferings, These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs (or parables): the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father a. From what has been said then we clearly see why our Saviour so generally taught the people in parables.

Now as the parables were intended for our instruction, as well as theirs to whom they were first delivered, it is of importance that we, as well as they, rightly understand them. To this end give me leave to lay down two or three rules to assist us in the interpretation of them.

1. The first and principal one I shall mention is, the carefully attending to the occasion of them.

No one, for instance, can be at a loss to explain the parable of the prodigal son, who considers that our Lord had been discoursing with publicans and sinners, and that the proud and self-righteous Pharisees had taken offence at his conduct. With this key we are let into the true secret of this beautiful parable, and cannot mistake in our comment upon it. With

a John xvi. 25.

inimitable softness and compassion our Saviour encourages the hopes of the penitent sinner, by describing the tender pity of a venerable parent towards an undutiful child. And with admirable address he reproves the invidious temper of Pharisaical professors, by representing the jealousy and disgust of the elder brother at the kind reception the younger met with. Understanding thus from the occasion of the parable what is the grand truth or duty meant to be inculcated,

2. Our attention should be steadily fixed to that object.

If we suffer ourselves to be diverted from it by dwelling too minutely upon the circumstances of the parable, the end proposed by him who spake it will be defeated, and the whole involved in obscurity. For it is much the same here as in considering a fine painting : a comprehensive view of the whole will have a happy and striking effect, but that effect will not be felt, if the eye is held to detached parts of the picture, without regarding the relation they bear to the rest.

Were a man to spend a whole hour on the circumstances of the ring and the robe in the parable just referred to, or on the twopence in that of the good Samaritan, it is highly probable both he and his hearers, by the time they got to the close of the discourse, would lose all idea of our Saviour's more immediate intent in both those instructive parables. And it should be farther observed, that the dwelling thus tediously upon the mere circumstances of a parable, sometimes proves a temptation to obtrude on the hearer such fanciful interpretations of them, as have no warrant for them either in reason or Scripture. Which leads me to add,

3. That great caution should be observed in our reasoning from the parables to the peculiar doctrines of Christianity.

The principal or leading idea of a parable is, I admit, a sufficient ground on which to establish a doctrine : but this is not always the case with a detached part of it. In discourses of this nature circumstances must be introduced to make


the story, and to give consistency and harmony to it: but there is no reason in supposing that a mystery is couched under each of these circumstances. The parable of Dives and Lazarus clearly proves, in my opinion, the existence of a separate state, since, if this be not admitted, I am at a loss how to give a consistent meaning to it, and under the necessity of supposing that our Lord countenanced a popular notion which had no foundation in truth. But, on the contrary, were I, upon the mere circumstance of Dives' expressing a concern that his brethren came not into that place of torment, to establish such a position as this, that there is benevolence among damned spirits, I should reason very improperly. I mean not however by this to say, that no attention is to be paid to what may be called the tints or colouring of a parable. Lights and shades have their effect, and our Lord might intend by relating little incidents, yea, even by the very turn of an expression, to convey some useful lesson to the mind. But then, as we should be on our guard that we are not diverted from the grand object by these matters, so we should take heed how we raise upon them a superstructure which they are not able to support. Such imprudent treatment of the parables by inconsiderate people has contributed not a little to scepticism, and created doubts in some minds, whether doctrines thus unskilfully defended have any other foundation than in mere imagination.

And now from what has been said, we see, in general, the importance of carefully guarding against an intemperate use of figure and allegory, in discourses on moral and religious subjects. But this is a matter that requires a little further consideration.

We have already admitted that a figurative mode of speech is allowable, and sometimes absolutely necessary.

Our ideas most of them originate from sensation. By comparing the various orders of material beings with one another, we come to understand their distinguishing properties: and by comparing the objects of faith with those of sense, if the analogy is properly observed, we are assisted in our reasoning about them. And every one is sensible how much a discourse is embellished and enlivened by figurative language. We mean not therefore to condemn the use of metaphors and similitudes, but only to correct the abuse of them. And what occasion there is for an attempt of this kind, none can be ignorant, who consider the manner in which public preaching is conducted in many popular assemblies.

It is lamentable to think what multitudes of weak people are imposed upon in this way. Their imagination is amused, and their passions excited, at the expense of their understanding and judgment, which are miserably trifled with, and too often grossly perverted. Figures we shall hear applied to what they bear no resemblance to, or at most but a very obscure and imperfect one. Metaphors of the lowest kind, if not indecent, we shall hear poured out in great abundance; a whole discourse filled with them, and sometimes a favourite one twisted and turned to any or every purpose without sense or reason. The doctrine of types shall be treated with the greatest freedom, as if no bounds were to be affixed to a wild imagination, and the preacher were at liberty to impose his own conceits on all the circumstances of the Jewish ritual. That shall be made a type which is none, and where there is one it shall be stretched beyond its true meaning. The very outlines of a shadow shall become the foundation of some important doctrine. Scripture histories shall be converted into allegories, the common actions and intercourses of the patriarchs and others, assume the air of mystery, and even the geography of the Old Testament have a spiritual meaning given it. And thus the Bible shall be made to say, in an infinite variety of forms, what no man of common sense can believe it ever meant to say.

And now we are upon the subject of public preaching, it may not be amiss to add, that this mystical treatment of Scripture is not the only evil we have to complain of. The pulpit is too often disgraced with a kind of language, action, and manner of address, better suited to the familiarity of the market or fireside, yea, in some instances, to the drollery of the stage, than the gravity of a Christian assembly. Sermons shall become vehicles, not only of trifling puerilities, quaint conceits, and fantastic allusions, but of idle stories, some true and some false. At every step the preacher advances, you shall have some image held up to view, taken from common life, dressed in an antic form, and adapted, aś it should seem, rather to dis-' turb than to excite devotion. Or if this be not his aim, but on the contrary his object is to make some truth or duty familiar to his hearers, yet the means defeat the end : for the substance is lost amidst the people's attention to the shadow, and so much time is taken up about the images of things,

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