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returning at night to the dust from which they sprang. Who would suspect that they were poor, and miserable, and naked, and blind, and in want of all things. Who would mistrust, that all this loftiness of character, these boasts of self conceit, belong to creatures putrid with sin, loathsome in the sight of God, and destined to perdition.
Almost all the ancient heretics, says Dr. Lardner, were philosophers. Such, to an equal extent, have been those of modern times. These men, now, as in all preceding periods, professedly receive the Scriptures, and then set them aside ; make a system of religion, and then attribute it to God. Deplorable impiety! Wonderful lunacy! How few of the scenes of bedlam exhibit so entire a destitution of reason, or so bewildered a domination of the passions of the human heart.
3dly. We learn from these observations, one of the principal sources of the practical unbelief, and the final ruin, of sinners who speculatively believe the Gospel.
All these men trust in their own hearts; and are fools in this confidence. Most of them, perhaps every one, intend ultimately to obey the Scriptures, and turn to God. Now, however, they are not ready : but the golden season is on the wing, is in full view, and is daily approaching, in which all things will be perfectly prepared for the accomplishment of this great purpose, acknowledged even by them to be indispensable. It is a day, formed in the womb of time with auspices peculiarly happy: the very contrast to the day of Job's birth, as it appeared to his distempered imagination. It has been named by God himself, as they would fondly believe, the accepted time, and the day of salvation. Every sinner has such a day, which his Maker has especially destined to his own use: a day, in which all the obstacles to his repentance will be removed. To this delightful, Paradisiacal period he refers, and feels that he may safely refer, the momentous concern of providing for the immortal life of his own soul. How melancholy is it, that this Elysian season never arrives ; that no sinner ever finds it; that on it no sinner ever repented; that, if his repentance be delayed in expectation of it, it is de
layed forever, unless God should arrest him in his progress, and awake him out of the delirious slumbers of procrastination.
This conduct has been the ruin of millions of our race; and will but too probably be the ruin of millions more, who might otherwise be saved. The broad and crooked path, which leadeth to destruction, groans under the crowd of procrastinators. The confidence, which they feel in their future sufficiency to repent, has destroyed more than the sword, the famine, or the pestilence. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil ; and madness is in their hearts while they live ; and after that they go to the dead.
THE PRODIGAL SON.-SERMON I.
Luke xv. 11--17.
And he said, A certain man had two sons.
And the younger of them said to his father, " Father, give me the portion of goods, that falleth to me.” And he divided unto them his living
And not many days after, the younger son gathered all togeth. er, and took his journey into a far country; and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And, when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went, and joined himself to a citizen of that country ; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks, that the swine did eat ; and no man gave unto him.
And, when he came to himself, he said, “ How many hired servants of any father's have bread enough, and to spare; and I perish with hunger !"
This parable is naturally capable of a twofold construction. The first, and probably that which it was intended especially to have, is, that it is an exhibition of the comparative state of the Jews and the Gentiles, and of the dispensations of God to both. The second supposes it to be an account of persons, externally and regularly obedient to the law of God, and therefore righteous in their own eyes, and of those, who from a state of shame, sin, and ruin, return with a godly sorrow for their guilt, to a state of obedience and reconciliation to God. As this was specdily to be illustrated in the conversion of the Gentiles; as their
sinful condition was essentially the same with that of every sinner; and their conversion, that of every convert; the latter of these constructions becomes entirely parallel with the former; and may with strict propriety be assumed as true. I shall, therefore, adopt it on the present occasion.
This parable is, upon the whole, the best prosaic composition in the Scriptures. The subject is interesting beyond expression. The narrative is told with the simplicity of a child, and with a skill which answers to the highest wish of criticism. The facts are selected with extreme felicity, and arranged in the happiest order. The language is so concise, that there is not a word to spare; and so perspicuous, that not another word is necessary. No story, of the same length, is equally important to man, or equally pathetic. It ends also precisely where it ought, with a complete annunciation of the catastrophe, and at the interesting moment when the feelings are raised to the highest pitch. It contains almost as many truths, as words; and all these are fraught with instruction, of the most momentous nature: while the moral, if I may call it such, deeply interests the inhabitants of heaven, and awakens hope and transport in the whole family of Adam.
In explaining a parable we are ever to remember the danger, into which some critics have fallen, of endeavoring to adapt every fact and word to the principal meaning of the allegory. The nature of allegorical writing demands of course, that some things should be said, in order to make the composition complete; in order to give meaning and force, grace and beauty, to the story ; so that it may be read with pleasure, and may make happy impressions. In these it is folly to hunt for any further meaning. The greatest justice will ever be done to compositions of this nature, when those instructions, and those only, are found in them, which they obviously contain, or can clearly be shewn to contain Such will be the plan of explanation, intentionally pursued in the following discourse.
In this parable, the Father represents God; the elder son, the Jews; and the younger, the Gentiles. Or the former may denote Vol. II.
a moral, self righteous man; and the latter, a very sinful one, becoming a penitent. Of the many evangelical doctrines, which, understood in the last sense, it conveys to us, I select the following,
1st. Sinners regard God no farther, than to gain from him whatever they can.
This truth is forcibly exhibited in the parable. And the youn. ger son said unto his Father, “ Father, give me the portion of goods, that falleth to me.” “And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country.” This youth was obviously disposed to be no farther connected with his parent, than was necessary, in order to obtain from him the property which his bounty might induce him to bestow. It was evidently his design, when he asked for this portion, to leave his benevolent parent as soon as he conveniently could. Within a few days he executed this design ; and not only left him, but in his intentions left him finally ; for he went into a far country, from which he evidently intended never to return. It was for this reason, that he gathered all together; and that he asked for his whole portion. This voluntary estrangement, also, was I think the peculiar subject of his sorrow and contrition, when he came to himself: the crime, which he most deeply lamented, and which in his view rendered him peculiarly unworthy to be regarded as a son.
No words could more successfully exhibit this part of a sinful character. All sinners are willing to be connected with their Maker, so long and so far, as they think they can gain any thing from his hands. Men, of this description, have a loose and indefinite apprehension, that their blessings are derived from God; without knowing, perhaps, or even thinking, how much they are indebted to Him, how much to what they call Nature, and how much to themselves. Generally, and in this country perhaps always, they believe that they derive from him their existence, and, in a remote and subordinate sense, their enjoyments. As he made them; they believe, that he is bound to provide for them ; and that with no very sparing or illiberal hand. What he gives, they gather; and, during the period of enjoyment, think of him