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An Epistle to the Reader.
TO mention all the motives which induced me to publish the following Notes, would extend this epistle beyond its proper limits; yet, may be satisfactory to note some of the most important.
It has appeared to me for some time, that something of this nature was as much needed, among christian people, as any thing that could be offered from the scriptures; and that on account of the very dif. ferent manner in which public teachers have treated the Parables of the New Testament, and the disagreeable consequences arising there
Perhaps it may be said, without encroaching on the feelings of the reader, that most of the ideas imbibed by people in general, in divinity, are received from the pulpit. And while one congregation is at tending to explanations of the Parables in one way, another is enter. tained with different ideas on the same passages. When those ideas are received, they form quite a difference in the opinions of christians; this dissimilarity of sentiment engenders twice as much disaffection in the heart, where nothing contrary to charity ought to be found; this disaffection is like a hot bed to the seeds of contention, and roots of bitterness.
And although I do not expect so favorable a consequence to result from my little Pamphlet, as a general agreement among christians, in respect to the Parables; yet, I entertain an humble hope, that it may make, at least, an approximation towards so favorable an object; perhaps by inducing some more able writer, who possesses more leisure for writing, to favor the public with a treatise on so worthy a subject,
In my travels through the country in discharge of duties enjoined by the ministry of the Saviour of sinners, I have met with more opposition to the gospel preached to Abraham, from false notions of the Parables of the New Testament, than from any other quarter. Often, after travelling many miles and preaching several sermons in a day, I have found it necessary to explain several Parables to some inquiring hearer, when my strength seemed almost exhausted. At such times, I have thought a volume, such as the reader has in his hand, might save me much labor. And I have often said to myself, if GOD will give me a few weeks leisure, I will (with his assistance) employ them in writing Notes on the Parables. This favor has at last been granted, though it was by depriving me of that degree of health which was necessary to the performance of those journies which I had already appointed; yet, preserving so much as to render me compcsed in my study.
I am pursuaded that a just knowledge of the Parables is almost indispensably necessary to a knowledge of the doctrine preached by Christ, as much of his public communication was in this way. It is in the Parables of Christ that we learn the nature of the two dispensations, or covenants; the situation of man by reason of sin; the character of the Saviour, as the seeker and Saviour of that which was lost; the power of the gospel, as a sovereign remedy for the moral maladies of man, and its divine efficacy in reconciling and assimilating the sinner with GOD. It is by the Parables that we learn the unprofitableness of legal righteousness in point of justification to eternal life; the absolute necessity of becoming new creatures, in order to enter the kingdom of GOD; the true character of the Saviour, as the Lord our Righteousness, and his divine power to make all things new.
And I may add to the above considerations many friendly requests from respectable brethren in the ministry, and many of my hearers who have made themselves partially acquainted with my manner of explaining the Parables.
Some will undoubtedly ask why the author was not more particular in quoting scripture evidence for the assistance of the reader. To which I answer; my main design was to have my explanations or
Notes derive evidence from the subject of discourse, or particular cir cumstance which seemed to introduce or occasion the Parable. I will instance two particulars for examples. The three Parables in the 15th of St, Luke were evidently introduced as an answer to the Pharisees and Scribes who objected to Christ for receiving sinners, which objection was the evident oocasion of the three Parables; and according to that circumstance, the reader will discover the propriety of my Notes.
Again, the Parable of the Tares, in the 13th of St. Matthew, con... tinues the thread of discourse from the explanation of the Parable of: the Sower; and by connecting these Parables as they ought to be, the reader will find the evidence for the propriety of what I have written on that Parable. Again, many quotations would of necessity have enlarged the work, which would have occasioned an additional exe pense to the reader.
Again, I do by no means wish to have the Bible read the less, but: the more, in consequence of my Notes: I wish for the reader to search the scriptures, to see if these things are so; and satisfy himself, by becoming acquainted with the most valuable of all books. I have, however, on those particular Parables where I saw the greatest danger of error, introduced (as I think) sufficient evidence by quotations. The method which I have pursued in most of the Parables would, I acknowledge, be a very bad method in sermonizing, as the hearers in that case would be lost in the multitude of particulars; yet, in reading, I supposed it an advantage to have the subjects particularly divi ded. The reason why I have omitted all the Parables in St. Mark and St. John, is because of their similarity with those on which I have written, or because I saw no probability of their being misunderstood; and the same reason I would give for omitting some in St. Matthew and in St. Luke.
I must tell you further, christian reader, that I am not without some fears respecting your getting a just understanding of the subject before you. Should you, when you have read it through, say it is not alto. gether according to the ideas which I have heretofore entertained, and
dismiss the work without further notice, I am sure you are likely to understand but little of the matter. It will be necessary to read it a number of times with attention, to search the scriptures in connexion with the Parables, and to take great care that you do not admit prepossessed ideas as evidence against what you read,
Again, should you hurry through the work, and say it is a good thing, and acknowledge the ideas to be just, without an exception, and pay no more study to the work, you are equally, as in the other case: liable to know but little of what you read. Suffer me, therefore, earnestly to intreat, that you neither justify or condemn these Notes, until you can do it with a good understanding, and from the authority of the scriptures.
And may the spirit of Him, in whom dwells the fulness of wisdom and knowledge, direct you in these serious and solemn, inquiries; make you all wise in his wisdom, holy in his holiness, righteous in his righteousness, and perfect in his perfection, is the fervent desire and joyful hope of a servant of all men
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: there fore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." MAT, iii. 10.
THE forerunner of Jesus was here giving that instruction to the people which was necessary for them to receive, in order that they might be prepared to receive the more mighty than himself. He shewed them the futility of depending on their being descendants from Abraham as to their being accepted in that dispensation which was immedi ately to be introduced.
Although that circumstance was of consequence to them in respect to that shadowy dispensation which was waxing old and ready to vanish away, it could not serve them as an induction into that. by which all things were to be made new; by which the shadows of the law were to flee away, and Jew and Gentile, as of twain, made one new
Fruits meet for repentance are, therefore, required; for as they stood in their law character, they were a generation of vipers, as is every child.