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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, and explain away his crime. But all pleas were at once silenced, 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 fellowcreature, 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 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
r circumstances in the two cases are discovered to be perfectly different in some essential point; our passions were ungovernable, the temptation irresistible. In short, somehow or other, all guilt vanishes away under the management of the dexterous 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; [Judges ix. 14.] that of Nathan; [2 Sam. xii. 1.] that of the woman of Tekoah, [2 Sam. xiv.] in the reign of David; and that of the thistle and the cedar of Lebanon, [2 Kings xiv. 2.] 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 Roman tongue, whose fables every one is acquainted with from his 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 judgement, 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 parables 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. When he delivered the parable of the sower, 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.
The events, related in our Saviour's parables, are not only such as might very probably happen, but several of them arc supposed to be such as actually did; and this would have the effect of a true historical narrative, which carries 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 Archelau9, 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 ho 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 arc trifling, uninteresting, tedious, and dull: and whatever he has borrowed from Scripture, loses its spirit, force, and beauty, by being completely distorted and deformed in its whole texture and composition. Such is the difference between a prophet who is really inspired, and an impostor who pretends to be so.
HEALING OF THE BLIND.
St. Lukk xviii. 37. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth
[Text taken from the Gospel/or the Day.']
In contemplating this miracle, let us, I. Attend to the subject of it; and II., To the Divine Being by whom it was wrought.
We will first attend to the subject of the miracle, which the Gospel records. Tliere are four things concerning him worthy of observation: his condition, a blind beggar: his application for help, under the sense of his blindness, to Jesus of Nazareth as soon as he heard of him: his perseverance, notwithstanding the obstacles which were thrown in the way; and his wonderful recovery of his sight.
I. 1. A blind beggar! Can a condition be conceived more humble, more helpless, more deplorable? In a spiritual sense, it is the condition of every sinner. He sees not God; he sees not salvation; he sees not peace. By the fall his understanding is darkened. By reason of the film which his iniquities have spread over his spiritual sight, the light of God's countenance, which shines eternally upon his creatures, is not seen. On the way-side of life, he is poor and blind, dependent for guidance upon any one who will undertake to lead him, and for gratification upon the pittance of pleasure which he begs of some passer by, or the tidings which he asks of the traveller concerning vain and temporal things. 'I counsel thee,' says one who is alone worthy to advise, * I counsel thee to anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest sec; for thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind.' So unhappy is the condition of this blind beggar, that when he feels his necessities, he sees not of whom he may ask for help: and when the Saviour passes by, who can restore to him his vision, and satisfy him with bread, through his blindness he asks 'what it means.' And the greatest misfortune is, that he is less anxious to be delivered from his spiritual, than from his bodily wretchedness: a disposition, which is illustrated and reproved,