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HOW IT IS POSSIBLE TO TEACH SPIRITUAL THINGS BY
NATURAL EMBLEMS, WITH THE
LUKE viii. 5--15. A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed,
some fell by the way-side ; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock ; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns ; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundred-fold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables ; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this : The seed is the word of God. Those by the way-side are they that hear ; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root ; which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which, in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
It is often placed to the account of the Lord's exquisite taste, large knowledge, and fine feeling of natural fitness and beauty, that from the commonest occasions, and humblest occupations of life-as the sower, the shepherd, the vine-dresser, &c.- he should have been able to draw the sublimest lessons and doctrines of religion; but when the niceness of taste, and the skill of execution, and the wise adaptation of the moral, have been all observed, commented upon, and admitted to the utmost (and it is impossible to pass the bounds of truth in the admiration and commendation thereof), the mystery remains as before, and has never been touched by the elegant observations and exact criticisms of our lettered and cultivated discoursers. The mystery lieth in this, How it should be possible to represent things which are invisible by means of things which are visible; things which are spiritual by things which are sensual; things which are pure and perfect as the will of God, by things which are to the very heart impregnated with, and to the brim full of, impurity, imperfection, and wretchedness? How come these analogies to exist between the realities of a fallen world, and the ideas, promises, first rudiments, and beginnings of a world unfallen? Are they accidental ? or are they designed in the purpose of God? Is it a work of ingenuity or of piety to search them out? Is it a proof of subtlety or of wisdom to have discovered them ? And is it of the artificial decorations of eloquence, or of the essence of instructive discourse, to employ them when they have been found out?
These are questions which, though simple as to the occasion which suggesteth them, are yet as deep as they are important, and, being well sifted, will afford the true resolution of the main difficulty which we have always felt in the exposition of this parable, --What is this soil of a good and honest heart, in which the word of God both takes root, bears the heat of the sun, and brings forth abundant fruit, to the enriching of the sower and the blessedness of the earth? Let us give good heed, then, to this subject; and the Lord himself open it to the meditations of his people.
Certainly it is not accidental, that the natural world should bear such wonderful analogies with, and afford so many emblems or similitudes for expressing, the spiritual world : for that we call accidental which happens but seldom, and unexpectedly: that which exhibits itself regularly, according to a law or order of its own, we call of purpose and design. Now the case before us is really such, that the natural world is used in Divine Revelation, not in one part, but in all its parts, as if it were the proper types for making the things which are not seen intelligible. For example, in the relationships of man with man:-that of husband and wife, expresseth the mystery of Christ and his elect church; that of father and son, the mystery of the relation between the First and Second Persons of the Godhead; that of king and people, the mystery of Christ's relation to the world in this present age, and to the church
in the age which is to come; that of a man to his adopted son, is the mystery of the Father and the elect, &c. Again, of the body, the various constitutional parts are in like manner consecrated to spiritual ends :-our birth, without any power of our own, expresseth the mystery of our regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the circumambient element of air, upon which our life is supported without any power in us to controul its free coming or going, shadoweth forth the nourishment of the whole church by the Spirit: thë harmonious and fitly framed body, being one made up by the sympathy and sweet coalescence of diversely-endowed members, is the emblem of the one catholic church and communion of saints, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Ghost. And if we descend to the vegetable creation :--the sowing of the seed is the preaching of the Gospel; the reaping of the harvest is the in-gathering of the saints; and the threshing and fanning of the wheat, is the judgments and commotions by which Christ shall utterly purge the earth of all his enemies: the vineyard is the church; the stem of the vine, is Christ; the branches, are his disciples; and the keeper of the vineyard, is the Father : the good grapes, are the righteous; the sour grapes, are the reprobate: and because these alone are left when the elect have all been gathered, the vintage is the destruction of all the apostates in the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God. Or if we look to the elemental world :--we have the light representing Christ; the wind representing the Holy Ghost; but the Father, being essentially invisible, hath no other emblem than as the Father of lights, “in whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning :" the earth, is the stable government and constitution of society; and the yeasty sea, is the restless tossings and agitations of the spirit of discord in the out-field of the barbarous nations.
For it is further to be remarked, that this use of things natural to represent things spiritual, is not the culling out of the best and noblest, but likewise and equally the use of the worst and basest, or rather, I should say, the indiscriminate use of all. Sickness and vileness, wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores, leprosy, palsy, and death, are all used to shadow forth the evil conditions of our natural estate; medicines, balms, and amputations, Christ's medical care of us; and health, or salvation, which is restoring to health, represents the efficacy of the Physician's care. Rebellion, and judgment, and imprisonment, and execution, and war, are constantly used as the symbols of spiritual things: so are adultery, fornication, divorce, and, I may say, every form of faithlessness. Natural life is altogether, by the Holy Spirit, made to be but one allegory of spiritual things: all the substantial attributes, or constant laws of life, are, to use a vulgar but very expressive similitude, the fount of types with which the book of inspiration is printed, in order to be made legible and intelligible to the whole human family.
And the question is, how cometh this to pass? The common resolution of the difficulty is, that the present aspect of the fallen creation is a rude representation of what it was in its original beauty; and doth, like a crumbling ruin, afford some faint and imperfect notion of its ancient magnificence.