Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

ing asleep before the coming of the bridegroom, as well as the foolish ones; and consequently, strictly speaking, as taken off their guard, at the time, by that event, as much as their companions. The nature of the vigilance must be collected from the kind of instance in which it is exerted; and the nature of that instance must be estimated according to the circumstances and situation of the parties in whose behaviour both the vigilance and the quality opposed to it, are respectively illustrated. Tried by this criterion, it will appear that the vigilance is entitled to that name, only as it agrees to the idea of watchfulness in general, and therefore of simple watchfulness—as the effect of a common principle of conduct, a prudent foresight, a timely circumspection, an heedful providence against danger and surprisewhatever be the particular emergency which may render these things necessary.

The personal relation of all but the principal parties concerned in the parabolic representation, was manifestly that of the friends and companions of one or other of these parties, in the solemnity of their

Matthew's; the excluded guests in St. Luke-are nominal Christians in St. Matthew; the occasion of the solemnity in the one, is the day of doom in the other; and the feast celebrated with a certain company, is the entering into the kingdom of heaven. And these things being true of the allegorical description, Luke xiii. 23–30, they must be equally true of the parable, which so nearly resembles it; and consequently, if that description was allegorical in every thing relating to the occasion, the master, the guests, and the like—the parable must be so too, in every thing relating to the corresponding parts of itself; and the key to the interpretation of the one must be the key to that of the other.

nuptial union, and of every thing which preceded that event. The duty incumbent upon them, was consequently that of being always in readiness to attend upon the principal personages, and to bear their proper part, as the subordinate personages, in a ceremony like that of their nuptial union; which so far was the duty of persons invested with a certair responsibility. The vigilance incumbent upon them, would consequently be the vigilance incumbent upon those, who were bound by their place and relation to be always prepared to discharge the duties of a certain station—to acquit themselves of a certain responsibility. To this general idea of the duty, it would be indifferent in what the instance of the vigilance consisted—or when it was first to be exerted; provided the effect of it were still the same, to qualify the subject for the discharge of the obligations of his particular duty, at one time as much as at another; and consequently at all times alike.

Now the idea of a vigilance of this kind cannot possibly be confounded with the simple idea of keeping awake, or watching; but it will come up to the notion of that complex virtue, which, in allusion to the simple quality-as resembling it in the general principle, and the material part of its nature, however different in its specific character, and the manner and extent of its operation—we have called the virtue of Christian watchfulness. The moral application of the parable, therefore, is to inculcate the duty of Christian watchfulness. But Christian watchfulness is the one thing necessary to Christian responsibility. The doctrine of Christian watchfulness is therefore the doctrine of Christian responsi

non

bility; and the parabolic illustration which applies to the former, must apply also to the latter.

Now the doctrine of Christian responsibility is, in other words, the doctrine of an economy of probation, begun, and continued while it lasts, on Christian principles, and characteristic of the constitution of the present visible church; which by its practical effects in discriminating asunder one portion of the members of the present visible church from another, prepares for the final transition of the visible into the invisible church. None but those who are subjected to a state of probation on Christian principles, beforehand, can be liable to be called to account on Christian principles, at last; which liability is to be denominated their Christian responsibility: and none but those who are liable to such an account, can have occasion for such a virtue as Christian vi. gilance, to be always prepared for that account. The doctrine of Christian vigilance, then, is an infallible criterion of the doctrine of Christian probation-out of which it springs, as the great practical inference founded upon it, and from which it differs only as a consequent from its antecedent, or as an effect from its cause. Hence, if the parable was either expressly intended, or naturally adapted, to illustrate and enforce this practical inference, it must presuppose the state of the case, in which it is founded; and if it enforced the inference by virtue of the history recorded in the narrative, that history must be a case in point to the doctrine on which the inference is founded. On this principle, the allegorical representation contained in the parable, will be a figurative representation of the scheme of Christian probation-a figurative illustration of the doctrine of Christian responsibility: a conclusion which we shall find to be a clue to the interpretation of all its circumstances h.

h Among the other arguments which would lead to the above conclusion, one is the declared subject of comparison with the history, (that is, the history in the complex, recorded in the parable,) the mention of which is premised in this instance; “ the “ kingdom of heaven.” The various senses of this phrase were explained in the General Introduction, chapter x. and it was there shewn, that under all its modifications of meaning, the idea which predominates throughout is that of the Gospel dispensation, considered as a state of probation transacted on Christian principles in this life, preparatory to a state of retribution critically adapted to the claims of Christian desert, in the literal enjoyment of a kingdom of heaven, in another life. To this complex signification of the phrase, especially when premised as the object of comparison to the parabolic history ensuing, regarded in the complex also, nothing, it is manifest, was so well adapted to answer, as an entire view of the scheme of Christian probation, the general doctrine of Christian responsibility, allegorically represented by the history in question. On this principle, the analogy between the things compared, would be the closest imaginable, and so complete as to be almost the comparison of the same thing with itself.

Again, it is superfluous to remind the reader that the detail of things in the parable was so strictly confined to what we called the nuptial preparation—that though it began with the earliest point of time at which the nuptial preparation could be supposed to begin, it broke off at the moment, when, had the narrative been any longer continued, the account of the nuptial preparation must have passed into that of the nuptial consummation. Now what is the nuptial preparation—considered as preliminary to the nuptial consummation—if both are divested of the figurative language under which their meaning is disguised, but the economy of probation, such as we defined and described in the ninth chapter of the General Introduction-preparatory to the æconomy of retribution which succeeds to it, and carries the end designed by it into effect? The nuptial consummation

could not ensue within the period embraced by the action of a parable, which confined itself to the nuptial preparation : neither can the economy of retribution begin within the period devoted to the being and probation of the visible church, in its present state. Yet both the nuptial preparation beforehand, and the nuptial consummation at last, were equally connected with the celebration of one and the same marriage festivity—as the economy of probation previously, and the æconomy of retribution ultimately, are with the enjoyment of the same Christian reward.

The scheme of Christian probation, the doctrine of Christian responsibility, appears, in fact, to be so exclusively the subjectmatter and final end of the parabolic representation in the present instance ; that the particular class of moral agents to whose situation the representation was intended to apply, and whose case we must suppose the Speaker of the parable to have had in view, at the time, are to be considered all who agree in the common character of Christians, and in the common circumstance of being subjected to an æconomy of probation on Christian principles. The members of the visible church, it is true, as composing its entire congregation, are every where divisible into two, but only two, classes, the ministers of religion, and the people ; and an allegorical representation immediately preceded this parable, extending from verse 45 of Matthew xxiv. to the end of the chapter, which the explanation of its particulars, as it first occurred, Luke xii. 42–46. abundantly proved to be specially applicable to the peculiar probation and responsibility of the ministers of religion, in contradistinction to the people. But this division is taken from a circumstance of distinction confined to a few among the complex of the same body, which opposes them to the rest; and thereby imposes a special character upon them in one respect, while they agree with the rest of the body in every other. Every minister of religion is necessarily a Christian, and a member of the congregation of the visible church; though every Christian and member of the congregation of the visible church is not a minister of religion. Every representation, then, which applies to the existing moral relations of Christians as Christians, must also be applicable to those of the ministers of religion, if they are not specially distinguished from each other; though the converse would not be

« IndietroContinua »