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if land, virtually incapable of producing corn through the intrinsic defects of its actual condition, symbolises the hearts of men, the failure of the gospel, in their case, is as much a foregone conclusion as the failure of the seed in the ground ; and it follows that none but the naturally virtuous benefit by the preaching of Jesus. How, therefore, is it possible to reconcile this parable with the doctrine of repentance and forgiveness of sins? How marvellous that it did not occur to any one of the disciples to inquire in what sense the parable of the sower affected men, rendered incapable of understanding the teaching of Jesus by the decree of the prophets !
Again, Jesus declares that the kingdom of heaven resembles a man who has sown good seed in a field in which his enemy subsequently scatters tares, and all are permitted to grow together until the harvest.1 The disciples, apparently unconscious of their privileged possession of sacred mysteries, seek an explanation, and Jesus states that the sower is the Son of Man, the good seed the children of the kingdom, the tares the children of Satan, and the harvest the end of the world. Mankind are, therefore, predestined to salvation or perdition under circumstances admitting of no individual responsibility; and if the disciples had been capable of any rational appreciation of their master's meaning, they would naturally have remarked, “If all men are necessarily wheat or tares, sons of God or children of Satan, why preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, and teach the multitude that men shall be rewarded or punished according to their conduct on earth ?' But, un
, Matt, xiii. 24-30.
happily for the future of Christianity, the simple-minded peasants whom Jesus had chosen as his companions and confidants were too deeply impressed by his personal superiority to question the infallibility of his teaching. As Jesus, however, habitually silenced all who differed from him in opinion, the sceptical suggestions of disciples would not probably have elicited any very definite reply. When Peter, the boldest of the apostles, presumed to criticise the statements of his master, he was reproved with a severity which practically suppressed inquiry, and thus deprived posterity of the enlightenment which might have resulted from freedom of discussion.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net which was cast into the sea, and gathered of
1; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world; the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.'1 Now, what does analogy in this case affirm? The fish are in their natural condition, which nothing can change when the great drag-net is cast, and in symbolising men, indicate that salvation or perdition is contingent on the natural character of individuals.
Eminent commentators assure us that this parable perforce passes over the fact that in the actual work of the kingdom the very casting of the net may change, and is meant to change, the nature of the fish that are taken in its meshes; and, therefore, those that remain “ bad” are so in the end by their own will.' This is a marvellous effort at accommodation; and, as there is simply no analogy between the parable and these views, ecclesiastical exegesis further confirms the obvious fact that Jesus had mistaken the tendency of his own genius, when he undertook to instruct mankind by parables in the mysteries of the Kingdom. Was he more successful in teaching wisdom and morality, by the Rabbinical method?
1 Matt, xüi. 47-50.
Theologians have exhausted the resources of casuistry in apologetic exegesis of the parable of the Unjust Steward; but the fact remains unchanged, that it either sanctions sharp practice in business, or is absolutely destitute of any intelligible meaning. It is vain to weary us with the shifting suggestions of modern hypotheses; we require to know in what sense the parable was understood by the auditors of Jesus, and fail to obtain any satisfactory reply.
The favours lavished on the prodigal son teach us that idle profligacy may attain equal rewards with steady industry; but the omission of all reference to the subsequent history of the prodigal deprives the parable of instructive efficacy. The young scamp, when nearly famished, was eloquent in professions of repentance; but when he found that a vicious career led to nothing worse than a new suit of clothes and a fatted calf, he may have relapsed again and again, and dined so often on penitential veal, that even his affectionate old father lost all patience, and sent him back to husks and swine—a catastrophe which would, of course, materially alter the moral of the tale.
What interpretation shall we give to the parable of
the Talents ? 1 A capitalist, travelling into a far country, called his servants and delivered, to the first five talents, to the second two, and to the third one. The first two adopted mercantile pursuits ; and, although nothing is said of their having traded in partnership, each, by a remarkable coincidence, cleared exactly one hundred per cent. profit. These men may have been bold and successful speculators, but to double capital in either ancient or modern times involves risks quite as likely to end in ruinous failure as in a brilliant coup. To understand the application of the parable it would, therefore, be necessary to know how these speculators would have been received by their master, had they announced the loss of his seven talents.
The holder of one talent was, obviously, one of those dull plodding men who, in our own time, would prefer keeping a hundred sovereigns in a stocking to investing in Turkish bonds. As he had not the courage to trade, he was condemned for not lending the money at interest ; but what if the bank failed? Would he then have been rewarded for good intentions ?
Our English Bible, through the interpolation of verse 14, depicts this parable as representing the kingdom of heaven, but we can find no trace of the analogy
Has no evangelical parable, therefore, given full expression to the teaching of Jesus on the Mount? Yes, that of the Good Samaritan, which, in absolute freedom from Rabbinical mysticism, is inspired by that spirit of humanity which constitutes the moral greatness of the Son of Man.
1 Matt. xxv. 14-30,
The theology of Jesus affirms the paternal and filial relationship of God and man—a theory of Divine and human affinity anticipated for centuries by Aryan piety, and so familiar to the audience of Jesus that it is accepted without comment as quite a matter of course.
In the opinion of Jesus, faith was the cardinal virtue of candidates for the kingdom of heaven, but a faith which meant nothing more than belief in the Son of Man. Could he have foreseen that the Christianity of futurity would claim the unreasoning assent of mankind to the superstition which transformed the unassuming Son of Man into the second Person of a mysterious Trinity, his homely mother into the Queen of heaven, and his rustic companions into the demi-gods of Christian worship, he would have recognised that a reasonable scepticism is more akin to true religion, than the unquestioning faith which drifts into blind credulity, and solemnly warned his followers to believe nothing of him after his death which they had not heard from his own lips ; and thus posterity might have escaped the doctrines, dogmas, and mysteries inflicted by ecclesiastical authority on mankind.
Jesus added nothing original to contemporary thought on the immortality of the soul, or the resurrec