« السابقةمتابعة »
our impatience would leap over all the intervening space which keeps us from it, rather than climb it by slow and painful steps. We would fain be spared the sorrow and shame of our own errors, of all their vexatious obstructions, all their dishonourable impediments. We would be completely good and happy at once without passing through the stages and gradations which lead to goodness and happiness. We require an instantaneous transformation which costs us nothing; the Spirit of God works by a gradual process which costs us much. We would combine his favour with our self-indulgence; we would be spared the trials he has appointed without losing the felicity he has promised. We complain of the severity of the operation, but the operation would not be so severe, if the disease did not lie so deep.
Besides, the afflictions which God appoints, are not seldom sent to save us from those we should bring on ourselves, and which might have added guilt to misery.-He threatens, but it is that he may finally save. If punishment is his strange,' it is also his necessary works.' Even in the sorest affliction, the loss of those we love, there may be a mercy impenetrable to us. -God has, perhaps, laid up for us in heaven that friend whom he might have lost in eternity, had he been restored to our prayers here. But if the affliction be not improved, it is, indeed unspeakable heavy. If the loss of our friend does not help to detach us from the world, we have the calamity without the indemnification; we are deprived of our treasure without any advantage to ourselves. If the loss of him we loved does not make us more earnest to secure our salvation, we may lose at once our friend and our soul. To endure the penalty and lose the profit, is to be emphatically miserable.
Sufferings are the only relics of the true cross, and when Divine grace turns them to our spiritual good, they almost perform the miracles which blind superstition ascribes to the false one. God mercifully takes from us what we have not courage to offer him; but if, when he resumes it, he sanctifies the loss, let us not repine. It was his while it was ours. He was the proprietor while we were the possessors.
it is evident we should disobey him in these also if the allurement were equally powerful in these cases as in the others. We may, indeed, plead an apology that the command we resist is of less importance than that with which we comply; but this is a false excuse, for the authority which enjoins the least, is the same with that which commands the greatest; and it is the authority by which we are to submit, as much as to the command.
There is a passage in St. Luke which does not seem to be always brought to bear on this point as fully as it ought: unless a man for sake all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. This does not seem to be quite identical with the command in another place, that a man should 'sell all that he has,' &c. When the Christian world indeed was in its infancy, the literal requisition in both cases was absolutely necessary. But it appears to be a more liberal interpretation of the command, as forsaking,' all that we have, extends to a full and entire consecration of ourselves to God, a dedication without reserve, not of fortune only, but of every desire, every faculty, every inclination, every talent; a resignation of the whole will, a surrender of the whole soul. It is this surrender which alone sanctifies our best actions. It is this pure oblation, this offering of unshared affection, this unmaimed sacrifice, which is alone acceptable to God, through that full, perfect, and sufficient sacrafice, oblation, and satisfaction made for the sins of the whole world. Our money he will not accept without our good will, our devotions without our affections, our services without our hearts. Like the prevaricating pair, whose duplicity was punished by instant death, whatever we keep back will annihilate the value of what we bring. It will be nothing if it be not all.*
It is obvious, that the reason why mankind, in general, are so much delighted with allegory and metaphor, is, because they are so proportioned to our senses, those first inlets of ideas. Ideas gained by the senses quickly pass into the region of the imagination; and from thence, more particularly the illiterate and uninformed, fetch materials for the employment of their reason.
Though we profess a general readiness to submit to the Divine will, there is nothing in which we are more liable to illusion. Self-love is a subtle casuist. We invent distinctions. We too critically discriminate between afflictions which proceed more immediately from God, and disappointments which come from the world. To the former we acknowledge, in words at Little reaches the understanding of the mass least, our willingness to submit. In the latter, but through this medium. Their minds are not though equally his dispensation, we seem to feel fitted for the reception of abstract truth. Dry justified in refusing to acquiesce. God does not argumentative instruction, therefore, is not prodesire us to inflict punishments on ourselves, he portioned to their capacity; the faculty by which only expects us to bear with patience those he a right conclusion is drawn, is, in them the most inflicts on us, whether they come more imme-defective; they rather feel strongly than judge diately from himself or through the medium of accurately and their feelings are awakened by his creatures. the impression made on their senses.
Love being the root of obedience, it is no test of that obedience, if we obey God only in things which do not cross our inclinations, while we disobey him in things that are repugnant to them. Not to obey except when it costs us no. thing is rather to please ourselves than God, for
The connexion of these remarks with the subject of instruction by parable, is obvious. It is the nature of parable to open the doctrine which it professes to conceal. By engaging attention
* Acts, chap. v.
and exciting curiosity, it developes truth with [sive form of a direct charge, it would have fired more effect than by a more explicit exposition. them with inexpressible indignation. By laying hold on the imaginations, parable insinuates itself into the affections, and, by the intercommunication of the faculties, the understanding is made to apprehend the truth which was proposed to the fancy.
There is commonly found sufficient rectitude of judgment in the generality to decide fairly on any point within their reach of mind, if the decision neither opposes their interest nor interferes with their prejudice. If you can separate the truth from any personal concern of their own, their verdict will probably be just but if their views are clouded by passion, or biassed by self. ishness, that man must possess a more than ordinary degree of integrity who decides against himself and in favour of what is right.
Christians who abound in zeal, but are defective in knowledge and prudence, would do well to remember, that discretion made a remarkable, though not disproportionate part of the Redeemer's character; he never invited attack by imprudence, or provoked hostility by intemperate rashness. When argument was not listened to, when persuasion was of no avail, when even all his miracles of mercy were misrepresented, and his divine beneficence thrown away, so that all farther attempts to do good were unavailing, he withdrew to another place; there, indeed, to experience the same malignity, there to exercise the same compassion.
The divine Author of our religion gave also the example of teaching not only by parable, but In the admirably devised parable of Nathan, by simple propositions, detached truths, pointed David's eager condemnation of the unsuspected interrogations, positive injunctions, and indeoffender is a striking instance of the delusion pendent prohibitions, rather than by elaborate of sin and the blindness of self-love. He who and continuous dissertation. He instructed not had lived a whole year in the unrepented com- only by consecutive arguments, but by invita mission of one of the blackest crimes of the de- tions, and dissuasives adapted to the feelings, calogue, and who to secure to himself the ob- and intelligible to the apprehensions of his auject for which he had committed it, perpetrated dience. He drew their attention by popular ilanother almost more heinous, and that with an lusions, delighted it by vivid representations, hypocrisy foreign to his character, could in an and fixed by reference to actual events. He instant denounce death on the imaginary offend-alluded to the Galileans, crushed by the falling er for a fault comparatively trifling. The vehe- tower, which they remembered-to local scenemence of his resentment even overstepped the ry-the vines of Gethsemane, which they beheld, limits of his natural justice, in decreeing a pu- while he was descanting respectively upon renishment disproportioned to the crime, while hepentance, and upon himself, as the true vine.' remained dead to his own deep delinquency. A pointed parable instantly surprised him into the most bitter self-reproach. A direct accusation might have inflamed him before he was thus prepared; and, in the one case, he might have punished the accuser, by whom, in the other, he was brought to the deepest self-abasement. The prudent prophet did not rashly reproach the king with the crime he wished him to condemn, but placed the fault at such a distance, and in such a proper point of view, that he first procured his impartial judgment, and afterwards his self-condemnation. An important lesson, not only to the offender, but to the reprover.
By these simple, but powerful and suitable methods, he brought their daily habits, and every day ideas, to run in the same channel with their principles and their duties, and made every object with which they were surrounded contribute its contingent to their instruction.
The lower ranks, who most earnestly sought access to his person, could form a tolerable exact judgment on the things he taught, by the aptness of his allusions to what they saw, and felt, and heard. The humble situation he assumed, also, prevented their being intimidated by power, or influenced by authority. It at once made their attendance a voluntary act, and He who knew what was in man,' and who their assent an unbiassed conviction. The quesintended his religion, not for a few critics to ar- tions proposed with a simple desire of instrucgue upon, but for a whole world to act upon, tion, were answered with condescending kindfrequently adopted the mode of instructing by ness; those dictated by curiosity or craft, were allegory. Though he sometimes condescended repelled with wisdom, or answered, not by grato unveil the hidden sense, by disclosing the tifying importunity, but by grafting on the remoral meaning, in some short, but most signifi-ply some higher instruction than the inquirer cant comment; yet he usually left the applica- had either proposed or desired. Where a direct tion to those whom he meant to benefit by the answer would, by exciting prejudice, have imdoctrine. The truth which spoke strongly to peded usefulness, he evaded the particular questheir prejudices, by the veil in which it was tion by enforcing from it some general truth. wrapped, spared the shame while it conveyed On the application of the man whose brother the instruction, and they probably found a gra- had refused to divide the inheritance with him tification in the ingenuity of their own solution-in declining to interfere judicially, he gave a which contributed to reconcile them to the sharpness of the reproof.
The most unjust and prejudiced of the Jews were, by this wise management frequently drawn in to give an unconscious testimony against themselves; this was especially the case in the instance of the householder and his servants. Had the truth they were led to deduce from this parable, been presented in the offen
great moral lecture of universal use against avarice, while he prudently avoided the subject of particular litigation.
His answer to the entangling question, 'And who is my neighbour?' suggested the instructive illustration of the duty to a neighbour, in that brief, but highly finished apologue of the good Samaritan. The Jews, who would never have owned that a Samaritan was their neigh
THE WORKS OF HANNAH MORE.
bour, were, by this pious management, drawn in to acknowledge, that every man, without regard to country, who was even of a hostile country, if he needed their assistance, was their neighbour. In this slight outline, three characters are sketched with so much spirit and distinctness, that, as Mr. Boyle says of Scripture truths in general, they resemble those portraits, whose eyes, every one who enters the room, fancies are fixed on him.
opening our understandings to natural and rational information, but expects that we should apply the faculties bestowed, to the objects proposed to them. We put ourselves, therefore, in the fairest way of obtaining his assistance, when we most diligently use all the means and mate. rials he has given us; comparing together his works and his word; not setting up our understanding against his revelation, but, with deep False zeal, which he generally found associ- prehend the other; not extinguishing our facul humility, applying the one to enable us to comated with pride and hypocrisy, was almost the ties, but our pride; not laying our understandonly vice which extorted from him unmitigated ing asleep, but casting it at the foot of the cross. severity if he sometimes corrected presump. We have dwelt on this point the more, from tion and repelled malicious inquisitiveness, he having observed, that some religious persons uniformly encouraged distress to approach, and are apt to speak with contempt of great natural penitence to address him. The most indirect endowments as if they were not the gift of God, of his instructions inculcated or encouraged but of some inferior power: the prudently pious, goodness. The most simple of his reasonings on the other hand, while they use them to the were irrefragable without the formality of syllo- end for which they were conferred, keep them gism; and his brief, but powerful persuasions in due subordination, and restrict them to their went straight to the heart, which the most ela- proper office. Abilities are the gift of God, and borate discussions might have left unmoved.- next to his grace, though with an immense inEvery hearer, however illiterate, would at once terval, his best gift; but are never so truly estiseize his meaning, except those who found them-mable as when they are dedicated to promote selves interested in not understanding it; every his glory. spectator, if they believed not him, would believe his works,' if pride had not blinded their eyes, if prejudice had not barred up their hearts. Thus, if in the Gospels, the great doctrines of religion are not always conveyed in a didactic form, or linked with logical arrangement, some important truth meets us at every turn, is held out in some brief sentence; some hint is dropped that may awaken, recal, quicken, or revive perpetual attention. The same spirit pervades every part; we are reminded without being fatigued; and, whatever is the point to be pressed, some informing, alarming, or consoling doctrine is extracted from it, or grows
out of it.
the attention, and split it into so many divisions, that the main object would be lost sight of.
modate his parables to the capacities of his auOur heavenly Instructor, still more to accomdience, adopted the broad line of instruction conveyed under a few strong features of general parallel, a few leading points of obvious coincidence, without attending to petty exactnesses or stooping to trivial niceties of correspondence. We are not, therefore, to hunt after minute resemblances, nor to cavil at slight discrepancies. We should rather imitate his example, by confining our illustration to the more important circumstances of likeness instead of raising such as are insignificant into undue distinction. -This critical elaboration, this amplifying The Scriptures, however, are so far from set-minutiæ of parallel, would only serve to divert mode, which ramifies a general idea into all the ting aside the use of reason, that all their precepts are addressed to it. If they are delivered in a popular manner, and often in independent maxims, or reason, by combining them methodizes the detached passages into a perfect system; so that by a combination, which it is in the power of every intelligent reader to make, a complete rule of practice is collected. The scattered precepts are embodied in examples illustrated by figures, and exemplified by parables. These always suppose the mind of the hearer to be possessed of a certain degree of common knowledge, without which the proposed instruction would be unintelligible. For, if the Gospel does not address its disciples as if they were philosophers and mathematicians, it always supposes them to possess plain sense and ordinary information; to have acquaintance with human, if not with elevated life. The allusions and imagery with which it abounds would have been superfluous if the hearers had not been previously acquainted with the objects and circumstances to which the image is referred, from which the parallel is drawn, to which the allusion is made.
Our heavenly Father, in his offers of illumination, does not expect we should open our mental eyes to this superinduced light, without
for its text 'Ye are the salt of the earth.' The The author once heard a sermon which had preacher, a really good man, but wanting this discretion, not contented with a simple application of the figure, instead of a general allusion to the powerfully penetrating and correcting nature of this mineral, instead of observing that salt was used in all the ancient sacrifices, indulged himself in a wide range, chemical and culinary, of all the properties of salt, devoting a separate head to each quality. A long discussion on its antiseptic properties, its solution and neutralization, led to rather a luxurious exhibition of the relishes it communicates to various viands. On the whole, the discourse seemed better adapted for an audience composed of the authors of the Pharmacopoeia, or a society of cooks, than for a plain untechnical congregation.
miration on the engaging variety with which But to return. Who can reflect without adthe great Teacher labours to impress every important truth? Whenever different aspects of to seize the attention, still more deeply to touch the same doctrine were likely still more forcibly the heart, still more powerfully to awaken the conscience, he does not content himself with a
single allegory. Iu his awful exhibition of the inestimable value of an immortal soul, he does not coolly describe the repentance of a single sinner as viewed with complacency by the highest order of created intelligences, but as adding 'joy' to bliss already perfected in immortality. He does not limit his instruction to one metaphorical illustration of the delight of the heavenly hosts, but extends it to three, finishing the climax by that most endearing and touching of all moral and allegorical pictures, the restoration of the prodigal to his father's love.
But this triple use of the same species of allegory-each instance rising above the other, in beauty and in force, each adding fresh weight to one momentous point-he most emphatically employs in the last discourse previous to his final suffering; we mean in his sublime illustration of the solemnities of the last day, in three successive parables all tending to impress the same awful truth.
could never have been so forcibly conveyed as by this plain, yet most sublime delineation.
The conclusion immediately to be drawn from the second of these parables, the Parable of the Talents, is, that we have nothing that is properly our own, nothing that is underived from God. Every talent is a deposit placed in our hands, not for our exclusive benefit, but for the good of others. Whatever we possess which may either be improved to God's glory or perverted to his dishonour, comes within the description of a talent. To use any of our possessions, therefore, as if we had an independent right to the disposal of them, is to usurp the prerogative of the Giver. Many, it is to be feared, will wait till that great disclosing day which will throw a blaze of light on all motives, as well as all actions, before they will be convinced of the fallacy of that popular maxim, that a man may do what he will with his own. has indeed a full right to his proprietorship with respect to other men, but, with respect to God, he will find he had no exclusive property. Whatever portion of his possessions conscience ought to have turned over from vanity to charity, from sensuality to piety, he may find too late, was not his own, but his who gave it him for other purposes.
As he well knew every accessible point of the human heart, so there was none which he did not touch. But the grand circumstance which carried his instruction so directly home to the hearts and consciences of men, was, that he not only taught, but did all things well.' His doctrines were so digested into his life, his in- God proportions his requisitions to his gifts. structions so melted into his practice, that it The one is regulated by the measure of the rendered goodness visible as well as perfect; other. As duties and obligations are peculiar and these analogies and resemblances were not and personal, we are not to trench on the sphere only admirably, but uniformly correspondent. of others. It is of our own talent, we must He did not content himself like those heathen render our own account. A capacity, however, philosophers, to whose affable conduct in society to know our duty, and to love and serve God, as that of the blessed Redeemer has lately been so they are indiscriminately bestowed, so the inimpiously compared, (though their motives dif- quiry into the use made of them will be univerfered, as much as the desire of converting sin-sal, while the reward or punishment will be inners differs from delighting in them,) with ex-dividually assigned. hibiting systems without morais, and a rule without a pattern, but the purity and perfection of his divine character gave light to knowledge, and life to document.
On the parable of the Talents.
Deficiency and excess are the Scylla and Charybdis between which we seldom steer safely. If our talents are splendid, we are subject to err on the side of display; if mean, totally to suppress their exercise, apologizing for our indolence by our insignificance; but medi. ocrity of talents is as insufficient an excuse for sloth, as superior genius is for vanity. The true way would be, to exercise the brightest faculties with humility, and the most inconsiderable with fidelity. The faithful and highly OUR Lord's parables had been sometimes in- gifted servants in the parable, it is apparent, dicative of existing circumstances; sometimes were so far from being lifted into pride, or se. predictive of events which related to futurity. duced into negligence, by the greater imporAfter having, in his preceding allegories, by tance of the trust committed to them, that they practical lessons, encouraged the prepared and considered the largeness of their agency as an exhorted the unprepared, to look for the king- augmentation of their responsibility.-They dom of God, he closed his parabolical instruc-did the will of their lord without conditiontions by an awful exhibition of their fitness or unfitness for that everlasting kingdom; in which he unfolds what their condition will be, when all mystery, all instruction, all preparation, shall be at an end; when every act of every being shall be laid as bare before the eyes of the There is no one doctrine of Holy Scripture whole assembled world, as it was seen in its either insignificant or merely theoretical. That commission by HIS, from whom nothing is hid. which the parable teaches, is highly and special. The last of these three prophetic scenes is in-ly practical. The instruction to be deduced deed not so much a parable as a picture; not so much an allegory as a literal representation: the solemn reality rises above all figure, and
See Matthew xxv.
ing or debating. Their slothful associate, instead of doing it, contented himself with argu ing about it. He who disputed much, had done nothing: he should have known that Christi. anity is not a matter of debate, but of obedience.
from it, is as extensive as the gifts of God to his creatures, as the obligations of man to his benefactor. It is most especially practical, as it designates this world to be a scene of business, ន
action, exertion, diligence. It inculcates the vice and prodigality; and the other devoting abihigh and complicated duty of laying out our-lities so great, with profligacy so notorious, as to selves for the glory of our Maker, and the ex- appear little less than archangel ruined,' and ercise of an implicit obedience to his will. God drawing inferior spirits into the destruction in has not given us the command to work, without which they have plunged themselves. furnishing us with instruments with which to labour, and suitable materials to work upon. Our talents, such as riches, power, influence, wisdom, learning, time, are those instruments. The wants, helplessness, and ignorance of mankind, are the objects to which these instruments are to be applied. These talents are bestowed in various proportions, as to their value, as well as in different degrees, as to the quantity and number. He who is favoured with more abundant endowments, should mix with his gratitude for the gift, an abiding sense of his own greater accountableness. He who is slenderly furnished, should never plead that the inferiority of his trust is an excuse for his negligence. The conviction that the Great Master will not exact beyond the proportion of his gift, though an encouragement to those whom his providence has placed in a narrow sphere of usefulness, is no discharge from their diligence. Is it reasonable, that he who has less to do, should therefore do nothing? When little is expected from us, not to do that little enhances the crime; and it aggravates the ingratitude, when we Convert our master's more moderate demands into a pretence for absolute supineness.
He, who is not called upon to relieve the necessities, or to enlighten the ignorance of others, has still a weighty work upon his hands: he has the care of his own soul. If he is deficient in learning, and natural abilities-if he has little credit, and less of fortune, he probably has time; he certainly has the means of religious improvement; so that, in this land of light and knowledge, especially now that universal instruction is happily become a national care, there is hardly such a thing as innocent ignorance. Even of the lowest, of the least, a strict account will be required. To plead ignorance where they might have been taught, indolence because they had little to do, and negligence, because not much was pected, is only treasuring up innumerable reasons for aggravating their condemnation.
But again:-If these several talents, individually conferred, when employed to wrong purposes, or not employed at all, will be rigor ously punished: what sentence have they to expect, in whom is centred the splendid confluence of God's gifts? What will be the eternal anathema pronounced on those who possessed aggregately talents, with every one of which, singly enjoyed, they might have rendered the world about them better and happier? To reflect by whom they were bestowed, to what end designed, how they have been used, and what a reckoning awaits them, form a combination of reflections too awful to be dwelt upon. From the anticipation of such complicated woe we turn with terror. The bare idea of a punishment which shall always torment and never destroy, is insupportable. Yet how many believe this without being influenced by the belief! How many, by an unaccountable delusion, refuse to conform their lives to the injunctions of the gospel, while they put their vices under the protection of its promises.
The parable informs us, that it was 'after a long time,' that the Lord required the account; so long, that the wicked think it will never come, and even the good are apt to persuade themselves that it will not come soon. Let not those however who are sitting at ease in their possessions, whether of nature or of fortune, to speak after the manner of men, fancy that the reckoning which is delayed is forgotten. The more protracted the account, the larger will be the sum total, and, of course, the more severe the requsition. All delay, indeed, is an act of mercy; but mercy neglected, or abused, will enhance pnnishment in proportion as it aggravates guilt.
It is obvious that the servants in the parable had been in the habit of attending to their mercies. They seem never to have been unmindful of the exact value of what had been comex-mitted to them, 'Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents.' If we do not frequently enumerate the mercies of God to us, we shall be in danger of losing sight of the Giver, while we are revelling in the gift; of neglecting the application, and forgetting the responsibility. We should recollect that his very employment of us is a high mark of favour; the use he condescends to make of us augments our debt, and whenever he puts it in our way to serve him, he lays on us a fresh obligation, and confers on us an honourable distinction.
It is remarkable that of the several characters exhibited in the parable, the least endowed was the only one punished, his neglect being every way inexcusable. A lasting and awful lesson, that no inferiority can claim exemption from the general law of duty. If the right employment of the gift is an encouragement to the poorly endowed, as being easily exercised and amply rewarded; its abuse is an awakening call to every one. For, it is not fairly deducible from this instance, that if of those whose scale in society is low, whose intellectual powers are mean, or whose fortunes are narrow; if even of such, a strict account will be required, if even in these, mere deficiency was so harshly reprobated, mere nullity was so severely punished-a sen. tence of most tremendous import must await those who employ rank and opulence to selfih and corrupt ends, or genius to pernicious purposes; the one debasing their own minds by sensuality, or corrupting others by examples of
Though he that has most, and does most, has but a few things,' yet his remuneration shall be immense. It is his fidelity, and not his success; his zeal in improving occasions, and not the number or greatness of the occasions, that will be rewarded. There will be an always infinite disproportion between the work he has done, and the blessing attending it.
The expostulation of the unprofitable servant presents an awful lesson against distrust in God, and fallacious views of his infinitely perfec character. The very motive this false reasoner