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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 surprized 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 assign, ed, 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 *; · that of Nathan t; that of the woman of Tekoah, in the reign of David ; and that of the thistle and the cedar of Lebanon S, 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 their 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 com
mon 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 rcdemption, to a resurrection and a future judgment, 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 parable of the lost sheep, Vol. I.
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 ; and the events related are not only such as might very probably happen, but several of them are supposed to be such as actually did; and this would have the effect of a true historical narrative, which
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we all know to carry 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 conntry, there to receive a kingdom.
This probably refers to the history of Archeläus, 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 he had the kingdom of Judæa 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 are trifling, uninteresting, tedious, and dull. Among other things which he has borrowed from Scripture, one is the parable of Nathan, in which he has most ingeniously contrived to destroy all its spirit, force, and beauty; and has so completely distorted and deformed its