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sent day, to calculate upon an extraordinary and miraculous effusion of the Spirit: but if in the ministry, we would not cherish a presumptuous hope of success, we must give ourselves wholly to these things. A blessing can reasonably be expected only upon a proper application of human exertion. Many, however, in a very bad sense, would draw the bow at a venture, and calculate largely upon an assistance from God, which God has never promised. Lay preaching has a further tendency to diffuse the most erroneous notions respecting the nature of the gospel ministry. There is a great mass of ignorance in the world, and no inconsiderable portion manifested even by many pious, well intentioned persons. They judge chiefly from the appearance of things, and inquire not into their reasons. Among such, lay preaching is generally confined, and as commonly produces on their minds the impression, that any individual is invested with a right to preach, who possesses what they style a gift; that is, a ready utterance, no matter how undigested, crude, and even false, his sentiments. This is dangerous, inasmuch as it levels the barrier, which the scripture interposes, between the regularly constituted ministry, and that class who should be only hearers; as it throws open the floodgates of error, ignorance and 'schism; and finally as it tends to excite among the unenlightened, an utter disrespect for God’s own ordinance. Such consequences are to be deprecated by every lover of the cause of Christ; for in proportion as the respect which is due to the ministry is obliterated, its success is affected. These remarks are not the result of a mere esprit du corps, but of a solid conviction that vital godliness is endangered by the practice opposed. The ministry, however, is not the only sufferer. A great proportion of those who obtrude themselves
upon the world as religious teachers, as far as our knowledge extends, are youth, whose piety we have no reason to question, but whose prudence and good sense we altogether question; and these hazard much by their conduct. Let us instance a youth, whose religious sensibilities have been considerably excited; yet whose means of improvement in general literature, have been limited; commencing, perhaps, from a conviction of duty, the practice we are combatting: let us view him, flattered by the applause of the ignorant, among whom he makes his first essay, and whose admiration is easily won, and we ask, is he not in danger of contemplating himself with inordinate self-complacency? Will he not soon imagine, that in every respect, he is accomplished for the work? And having thus deceived himself, will he not proceed more confidently in
his expositions of the word of God,
however wide of the truth, and thus deceive others? This may be expected; for as knowledge tends to humble a man, ignorance inflates him with self-conceit. The evil ends not here; he institutes a comparison favourable to himself, in which he imagines, that independently of study, he excels those “who labour in word and doctrine;” and thus his ardour having betrayed him into ambition, his ambition excites in him presumption. But to all this it may be replied, God has given his seal of approbation to this practice, by blessing it to the conversion of souls. Let us for a moment grant, that the good effects of it have been manifested in numberless instances; does this fact afford a just and infallible criterion by which to decide upon the legality of the means employed? As a general rule, does the end justify the instrument? Who will hazard the assertion ? God, who acts as a sovereign, frequently employs a reprobate instrument in the accom
plishment of his purposes. An ungodly minister may be eminently useful; but do the effects produced by his ministry, sanctify his instrumentality? ~ Now it can be demonstrated, although we may not have produced conviction, that lay preaching is an instrumentality directly opposed to an ordinance of God, and conse
quently is radically illegal; so that
the supposed good effects resulting from it can never alter its character. But we assume higher ground. We deny the good effects so strenuously pleaded. Let it be understood, we speak in the general, not denying that there have been instances of permanent good from this instrumentality. Lay preachers, as it was before intimated, and as any man knows, who has any knowledge of the subject, are generally illiterate, and as such, they may rant and declaim, but they will not bearamessage of intelligence. And if there be no knowledge in the preacher, there will be none among hearers, who depend on his ministrations for instruction in righteousness. The amount then of their labour is this; they arouse the feelings and leave the mind under its original obscurity; or in other words, they give their sanction to that foul and libellous maxim, that “ignorance is the mother of devotion;” or encourage a notion equally dangerous, and one which almost invariably accompanies this kind of preaching; thatreligion consists in mere animal excitement. Here then is the effect; the passions of ignorant people aroused. But mark the result; when the gust of passion is spent, as it soon must be, the imagined good impression is obliterated; however apparently beauteous the blossom, the plant having no root withereth away. Hence the excitements thus prooduced are generally attended with lapses, so deep, so fatal and so public, as vitally to affect the best interests of the gospel. We hope we shall not be under
feeling, he should manifest it on a
subject which involves the life of his squl. But we say, that such feeling, when unattended by illumination of mind, and a correct understanding of the terms of the gospel, is no genuine evidence of true piety. High animal excitement, or a strong motion of the affections, when alone, may produce an enthusiast, but cannot make a man an ornament to the gospel.
From the whole, let this general remark be made, that Christians in private life should do no more than preach by their example, and by a conversation becoming the gospel; and that they who are styled elders by virtue of the sanctity of the of. fice to which they have been solemnly ordained, and candidates for the ministry” by way of anticipation, may, on suitable occasions, more publicly exhort; provided they avoid authoritative explications of scripture in any thing like regular sermonizing, and an address which might induce their hearers to suppose that they taught “as having authority.”
If this rule be observed, the consequences we deprecate may be avoided, and the church, whose interests, as a sacred charge, are in so great a degree entrusted to men, will be preserved from a flood of disorder, ignorance, and false feeling in religion.
W. M. E.
On Christ's speaking in Parables.
Though the men of highest rank among the Jews had aspersed the character of our Lord, they had not been able to prevent a large attendance on his public ministrations. A great concourse stood before him, on the occasion to which we shall have reference in the following observations. It appears that in the forenoon of a certain very interesting day he had been communicating instruction in some private dwelling ; but in the afternoon, his auditory had become so numerous, that he went to the “sea side,” and took his seat in a fisherman’s boat, at a little distance from the shore, which was thronged by “great multitudes,” who came to hear him. The truths which he inculcated on this occasion, were such as became one who had never uttered an unimportant word ; but one thing seemed surprising. The mode of instruction which he was pleased to prefer rendered his meaning difficult, if not impossible to be apprehended !” He spake “the word” to the people in parables. This is a circumstance most carefully stated, and strongly accented in the sacred record. “He taught them many things by parables—but without a parable spake he not unto them.” (Mark, iv. 2, 34.) A parable is a fictitious narrative—a continued simile or comparison under which divine truth is couched, and from which it is not always easy to educe it. It is frequently a “dark saying,” presenting truth, invested with clouds and shadows: and therefore, however carefully contrived, it is very possible that its intention and drift may be unperceived : truths may be inferred which it does not inculcate ; or, instead of clear knowledge, its effect may be, only the stare of wonder, or the uncertainty of conjecture. Very little better was the effect of those parables which Christ now delivered to the multitudes. They were unintelligible even to the disciples themselves, who being afterwards alone with their Master, begged him to explain to them the things which he had delivered in
* Those who are actually engaged in the study are intended. * For instance, who without an explanation, could have understood the several things inculcated in the parable of the sower 2
public: and “he expounded,” says Mark, “all things to his disciles.” They were likewise desirous to know his reason for not adopting a plainer method of discourse. It was to them a matter of much surprise, that when he enjoyed so favourable an opportunity for extending the knowledge of his gospel, he should choose to envelop his thoughts, in perplexing mystery— thatfiewho had always condescended to use the utmost familiarity and plainness of speech in his instructions to themselves, should dispense doctrine to the multitudes, in a way less adapted to inform than to amaze; that he should do this, who had no other errand in our world, than to enlighten and save the souls of men. Their surprise was not to be suppressed ; and at a convenient time o disclosed it to their master. “They came and said unto him, why speakest thou unto them in parables P’’ Before we introduce his reply (on which we purpose to remark more at length), it may not be amiss to notice the reason assigned by the evangelist, for his adopting the parabolic mode of instruction, on this interesting occasion. “All these things” (says Matthew, after recording what perhaps might be termed with propriety, Christ's sermon on the sea) “spake Jesus unto the multitudes in parables—that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in pa
rables, I will utter things which
have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Christ, it will be observed, did not give this reason himself; it is added by the evangelist at the suggestion of the Holy Spirit. There seems a propriety in this: it became well the dignity and majesty of our Lord ; suited the designs of Providence respecting him, and made, at last, the evidence of his Messiahship appear to greater advantage, while he fulfilled the prophecies concerning Messiah, to leave the fact of his having fulfilled them, to be afterwards evinced. Accordingly it will be found upon examination, that very rarely indeed, and never very clearly and decisively, does Christ himself point out an instance of accordance, between his conduct or circumstances, and the predictions of the Old Testament respecting Messiah. Such instances are abundantly remarked by the evangelists, who wrote the life of Christ, but very seldom, I believe, by Christ himself. One such instance is here mentioned by Matthew. In speaking to the multitude by parables, this evangelist was led by the Holy so to observe, that Jesus did, what Messiah is represented in prophecy as declaring he would do: Asaph in the lxxviiith Psalm, perSonating the Messiah, speaks as follows, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old;” (ver. 2, 3) and then gives an inspired narrative, which like the parables of the New Testament, is a picture or similitude of heavenly things, and was as dark to the Jews in the Psalmist’s day, as were the parables of Christ to the wondering multitude at the lake of Gennessareth. Thus it appears, that it had been determined on and declared, as one of the indications of Messiah to mankind, that he should adopt that very mode of instruction which seems to have now well nigh scandalized the disciples. It was one particular in that description of Messiah which the prophecies embosomed; and had it been wanting in our Lord, he would not have been perfectly conformed to that description. Here then we discover a sufficient reason for his opening his mouth in parables. Better surely, that the people should be left to §. their darling prejudices; and the disciples to wonder as they did, at the conduct of their master, than that he should leave unfulfilled one iota of the prophetic word, conVol. I.
cerning Christ. So much, as to the reason which the evangelist assigns for his speaking in parables. Let us now consider what Christ himself says in reply to the question of the disciples. “And the disciples came and said unto him why speakest thou unto them in parables P. He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand ; and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Mat. xiii. 10, 15. There are two distinct parts in this reply of Christ to the disciples. In the first, he refers them to the sovereign will of the Supreme, which had so fixed and arranged affairs in this case, as to make the use of parables expedient and proper: (ver. 11.) And in the second, he shows the propriety of this method of instruction on this occasion, by adverting to the moral state or reprobate disposition of his hearers : (ver. 13, 14, 15.) which required such a mode, and that on two accounts: for (1st), it was the †† mode they would endure: (Mar iv. 33.) and, (2dly.) while its obscurity left their violent prejudices undisturbed, it was the means of inflicting on them a very suitable punishment for entertaining these so dispositions ; agreeably to Markiv. 12. In this outline is comprehended, I think, the entire reasons given by our Lord ; let us however proceed to illustrate it o considering the very words whic he uttered. PART I. “He answered and said unto them, because it is given unto ou to know the mysteries of the ingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” This is the first part of his reply: and it is obviously neither less nor more, than a simple disclosure of the arrangement or plan which the divine will had settled in regard to the matter.
The disciples were here plainly
told, that their Master spoke to the multitude in parables, because, as on the one hand it was given to the disciples in the purpose of God to know the mysteries of the gospel; so on the other this grace was not given to the multitude. To perceive the pertinency of this part of the answer, 1. We should contemplate Christ, as no other teacher should ever be regarded, not merely as thoroughly acquainted with all revealed things, but as privy to the secret and eternal thoughts of Jehovah. It is obvious that Christ here claims to know the hidden determinations of the infinite Mind: since he undertakes to make known to the disciples what those determinations were, with respect to the spiritual and eternal destiny of themselves and the multitude to whom he had been preaching. It were awful presumption, for a common instructer, or indeed for any mere creature, to undertake this office: it is not for man or angel to say, what God has decided and fixed in his own mind respecting the final character and doom of any one. But he who was himself God as well as man, was competent and had an absolute right to exercise this high province; and he thought fit to do so on this and many other occasions. 2. And as Christ must be considered as perfectly acquainted with
the secret purposes of Heaven, so he must be viewed, in this case, as doing what he knew was agree: able to those purposes, and adapted to fulfil them. As he knew that it was given to the disciples to know the evangelical mysteries, and not given to the multitude, so he used on this occasion a method of teaching those mysteries, designed to secure the accomplishment of the divine will, with regard both to the one, and the other; a method which, consistently with every divine perfection and every human right; consistently indeed with the exercise of tender mercy on the part of Christ; would leave the multitude in culpable ignorance, and at the same time, prove no hindrance to the ultimate illumination of the disciples. And here too our adorable Redeemer must not be regarded as a pattern for human imitation. He acted in a manner proper in himself only, as knowing what no creature can know, the unrevealed purposes of God. In this respect he was perfectly singular. No one else ever was, or ought to be like him. The only rule of action to common persons is the moral law, or God’s revealed will. As they cannot have access to the book of God’s decrees, they are required to regulate their conduct only by the code of precepts contained in the scriptures, and when disregarding that infallible rule, they presume to be wise above what is written, and think to please God by acting with reference to what they imagine his secret intentions, they rush into inevitable destruction. Thus it is, as to men and creatures. But it was not so with respect to Christ. He did know perfectly both the things which are revealed, and the things which are secret, both the commands and the purposes of God: And while he never violated the former, neither did he ever do anything, which had a tendency to frustrate the latter.