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serm, they found it expedient to embody their
instructions in example. And if experience or recollection did not promptly supply them with an apposite instance from civil or domestic life, they had recourse to invention for an imaginary narrative.
In this respect our Saviour's parables have a pre-eminent advantage. By them the attention is engaged, and the memory is impressed: under the semblance of amusement they convey instruction; through the fancy they find a way to the understanding; and by affecting the passions they amend the heart. We may therefore account it a gracious condescension to the dispositions of the human mind, that he has chosen this mode of teaching to give a substance to that spiritual truth which he undertook to communicate,
Of the great use of parable in this point of view one example may suffice. It is one great object of religious instruction to display the fatal consequence of sin and the blessed fruits of repentance. But what is better calcu-. lated to produce this effect than the engaging narrative of the younger son9 ? 9 Luke xv. 11, &c.
Having received his portion of inherit- SERM. ance, he left his father's house, and went into a far country, and wasted his substance in riotous living. How just a resemblance of a man once instructed in religious principles, unhappily wandering from the paths of righteousness, and wasting his talents in the gratification of his irregular and criminal desires ! Having spent all his portion, he is reduced to the extremities of want, and is obliged for a maintenance to submit to the most miserable and debasing servitude. How expressive a description of an habitual sinner reduced by his unhappy course to a most deplorable state of spiritual indigence, and slavery to the worst of masters ! All alive to a sense of his present wretchedness he comes to himself; he laments his follies, he determines to repair to his father's house, to acknowledge his sins, and to commit himself to his clemency. How moving an image of an habitual sinner brought by some affliction to a sense of his unhappy state, repenting of his sins, and resorting to the throne of
in all humility for pardon! As soon as he approached his paternal home, his father saw him at a distance, he ran to
SERM.meet him, he received him with every
token of affection and forgiveness, he attired him as a son, and welcomed his return with a feast of gratulation. How endearing a picture of the tender compassion of our heavenly Father to a sinner, who repents of his evil course and returns with contrition into the way of righteousness !
3. Another use of parable is, that it gives an agreeable exercise to the understanding, and thereby contributes at the same time to impress any truth more strongly and durably upon the remembrance. The human mind, however weak it may be in exploring truth, yet is never so well satisfied with any attainment which is obvious and easy. The most ignorant and illiterate are better gratified with having a labour to surmount and an intricacy to unravel. And as men put a greater value upon wealth or any other property, which has cost them some diligence to acquire; so they put a greater value upon any moral intelligence, which has exercised the faculties of their mind to comprehend. Hence most of the heathen nations delighted in fables and apologues: and hence among the Jews
it was always esteemed' an intellectual SERN accomplishment to understand a proverb or parable and the interpretation thereof, the words of the wise and their dark sayings. "
In this respect also the parables of Jesus Christ have a very great advantage in engaging the faculties of the human mind.When he delivered his doctrines in person, a particular attention was paid to his parables: the multitude indeed only lent their ears; but his Disciples applied their understandings; and if they were not able to interpret them without assistance, they were anxious to receive an interpretation from his mouth.
· And now that his doctrines are transmitted to us in the gospel, his parables are frequently selected for more especial notice and regard : they have not only employed the talents of men of education and intellectual endowments, but they have also given an agreeable and useful exercise to the uncultured minds of plain unlettered Christians. And it is natural to suppose, that where the attention is for some time engaged on any portion of holy writ, s Prov. i. 6,
SERM. the understanding will be enlarged and 1. probably the heart improved.
Şuch are the General Uses of parable: it illustrates, and it embodies, moral truth; and it gives an agreeable exercise to the understanding. In all these cases its advantage was not limited to the people to whom it was originally spoken, but extends to all in every clime or age, who pay any deference to the authority of the teacher.
4. To these I must add another use of parable, peculiar to the case of those to whom it was immediately addressed; namely, that it served on some occasions for a cautious and prudent vehicle of unwelcome and unpalatable truth. In this respect it was of singular service to those, who had the delicate and arduous task of administring reproof to persons in authority or in elevated sta-, tions of life. A teacher of morality could have but feeble hope of success in his teaching, were he directly to charge the robber with his robberies, the murderer with his murders, or the adulterer with his adulteries: but by couching truth under the veil of some fictitious narrative, which bore some latent resemblance to the case in ques