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characters in the world could more perfectly answer our Lord's purpose than those of a Samaritan and a Jew; for every one who knows any thing of the history of those times and those countries, or even who has read the New Testament with care, knows this; that the most bitter and rancorous hostility subsisted between these two descriptions of men, and that it was an hostility founded, not only in a difference of nation, but also in a difference of religion. What is, perhaps, still more apt to inflame dislike and enmity, is a difference of doctrines and opinions upon the same religion. On the part of the Samaritans, you meet with an instance of enmity and dislike, in refusing at one of their villages the common rights of hospitality to our Lord and his followers, because he was going up, it seems, to join in the public worship of the festival to be celebrated at Jerusalem, whereas they thought Mount Gerazim was the place where men ought to worship.' Another instance of the complete alienation and studied distance at which the Jews and Samaritans kept each other, is seen in our Lord's conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well; for the woman could not forbear expressing her surprise that our Lord, whom she perceived to be a Jew, asked even for a cup of water at her hand; How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria?' The same thing that had surprised the woman, surprised also the disciples; for when they came up to the place, they marvelled, you read, that he talked with the woman, and the cause of surprise in both cases is explained by the evangelist, who tells us that the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.' In the foul and most undeserved abuse, which some of the Pharisees bestowed upon our Saviour, one of the harshest and bitterest things they could say was, 'Thou art a Samaritan.' This shows the temper of the men and of the times. Such was a Jew, and such was a Samaritan; yet, in the beautiful parable before us, when a Samaritan found a Jew stripped, wounded, and left half naked, he thought no more of their public hostility, their national quarrel, their religious controversies; still less did he reflect that the Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with each other; that a Jew was not to speak to a Samaritan, nor a Samaritan to a Jew. None of these reflections were entertained by him. He yielded at once to the impulse of his compassion, and to the extremity of the case. Had the Samaritan gone about to seek excuses for passing by the poor traveller, specious excuses were not wanting. The traveller's character was quite unknown to him. He was ignorant what sort of person he was, or how
far deserving of his bounty. He had many at home whom he did know, Samaritans like himself, of the same country and the same faith; and many, no doubt, suffering under every species of distress. The person before him was one of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were all the old and bitter enemies of his country. He had no reason to think that if a Jew had found him in such a situation, he would have thought it his duty to afford him any succor at all; and no reflection is more common and natural than to do to others, not what we would that others should do to us, but what we believe that others would do to us, if our situation were theirs. The accident also, which had thrown the traveller in his way, was an accident in which he had no concern. He had not robbed or beaten him. It was not owing to him, or to any fault of his, that the road was infested with thieves, and that the mischief had happened. These excuses were at hand; but the Samaritan sought none. It cannot be doubted, in truth it never was doubted, but that our Saviour, in describing the conduct and character of the Samaritan, pointed out a conduct which he approved, and a character which he loved. This is evident, not only from the occasion and general instruction of the parable, but from the words with which our Lord concludes it; Go, and do thou likewise.' The story was so framed, that it extorted a commendation from the Jewish lawyer, though the commendation was bestowed upon a person whom he hated, upon the enemy of his name and religion, a Samaritan. And the reply our Saviour made was surely the right and true one. Imitate thou the conduct which thou canst not help approving; Go, and do thou likewise.' It is most evident, therefore, that when, under similar circumstances, we act as the Samaritan acted, we act according to our Saviour's command.
Now besides the general instruction which there may be gathered from the parable, besides the general impression which it can hardly fail of making upon minds capable of receiving any moral or religious impression at all; besides, I say, its main purpose and general use, there are particular circumstances in it, calculated to excite salutary reflections.
First of all, it was by no means a good disposition in the lawyer, which put him upon asking the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' It was seeking a needless difficulty in a plain duty, which always, I take it, springs from a backwardness and lukewarmth, to say the least, towards the duty itself. When men are hearty and in earnest in any duty, they are not apt to multiply questions about it. The lawyer would not love his neighbour as himself till he new precisely who was to be reck
oned his neighbour. Now had his charity been strong, been real, he could have felt no want of any such information; his own heart would have informed him. As occasions arose, as misery and distress came in his way, as the powerful help and succor was possessed by him, he would have been ready to stretch out his hand, to have given way to his compassion, without nicely deliberating whether the object before him wanting his aid, was, or was not, the neighbour whom he was commanded to love.
Secondly; whatever difficulties and distinctions we are perplexed with in our own cases, we can generally determine, both readily and rightly, in the cases that apply to others. When this beautiful narrative was related to the lawyer, and the question upon it pointed home to his conscience, Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neigbour to him that fell among the thieves?' the lawyer had no doubt at all about the answer. 'He that showed mercy on him.' When another man was concerned, the case was clear. When the precept of loving his neighbour was to be obeyed by himself, and at his own expense, he was then at a loss to know who his neighbour was; to ascertain, that is, the limits, the extent, the measure, the objects of the obligation.
Thirdly and lastly, we have here, as upon many other occasions, great reason to admire the wisdom with which our blessed Lord spake, the manner and the excellency of his teaching. It is extremely material to observe, that this parable was not merely made by our Lord, or prepared beforehand in the manner of a set discourse, but, from the nature of the case, was conceived at the moment. The occasion was sudden and unexpected; a certain lawyer stood up, and started the question. It was, therefore, our Lord's divine promptness and presence of mind that enabled him, without study, without notice, to deliver a wiser, and more exquisite, and more complete solution of the question, than any study or learning could have produced. This was agreeable to his constant method; he gave to every incident, every discourse, to what happened before his eyes, to what passed in his conversation, a turn so as to draw from it a lesson of perpetual use. Not merely the lawyer was to go away answered, but his disciples instructed; his disciples in all ages of the world. As much, therefore, are we who read this beautiful passage in his scriptures, as they who heard the word from his lips, obliged to attend to it in our minds and thoughts, and to observe it in our lives and practice.
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS.
MATTHEW XXV. 19.
After a long time, the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
You cannot but know that these words are the conclusion of the parable of the talents; in which parable God's final dealings with mankind are set forth under the similitude of a master, who, setting out upon a distant journey, delivered talents, to some more, and to some fewer, to his several servants, and, upon his return required from each a separate account of his management; that upon those who had managed what was committed to them with diligence and success he bestowed high, yet proportionable rewards; that one who, though he had not spent or wasted, yet had hidden and totally neglected his talent, and had made no use of it whatever, he not only dismissed without reward, but sentenced him for his neglect to a grievous punishment. Now every thing in the New Testament which discloses the rules and principles according to which God will be pleased to judge us at the last, is of extreme importance, because they are what we must stand or fall by, and because they are what we ought to regulate our choice and behaviour by, whilst we have the matter in our power. Therefore this parable, as well as those others concerning the delivery of the talents, for it is given by the evangelists and was repeated by our Saviour in two or three different forms, is amongst the passages of scripture deserving our most serious attention. The points to be well considered are, what is meant by talents, and what is meant by improving and by neglecting, and by abusing them; for these points being understood, the application of the parable to our respective cases and conditions will be sufficiently plain.
By talents, then, are meant any powers or faculties by which we can do good. Every such power or faculty which we find ourselves possessed of is a talent delivered to us by God, and therefore a talent, for the use, the abuse, the neglect of which, as the parable expresses it, our Lord will reckon with us.
One principal thing, and the most difficult thing to be comprehended on the subject, is, that every man, the most common and ordinary person, hath his talent, for the exercise of which
he will have to account. I say this is less easy of comprehension, because, whenever we talk of talents, we are in the habit of considering only great talents, or extraordinary endowments and advantages. We are very ready to allow, and we think that is what the parable means, that those who have superior gifts, those who are blessed with quick abilities, or with favors of fortune above the common lot of mankind, ought to employ these rightly; and that if they do not so, they are highly and justly censurable; but we do not see how this relates to us, who make no pretensions to uncommon endowments of any kind, who are not in stations to possess much power of doing either good or evil. This way of thinking makes nine out of ten regard the parable of the talents as what does not at all concern them. I will endeavour therefore, as I proceed, to show you, that when the proper and true notion of moral talents is entertained, they are such things as, in a great degree, are given to every one, and what therefore every one will in the same degree be responsible for.
I have said, and I repeat it, that every power and faculty by which, according as we use it, we may do good, and by which, according as we misuse it, we may do harm, is a talent within the sense and rule of the parable. This definition extends the parable to all, notwithstanding there may be, and there is, much diversity, both in kind and degree, of the powers and faculties of different men; yet I believe that there are some of every station in whom their talents do not subsist in a sufficient degree to make the possessors responsible.
To see this satisfactorily, as well indeed as the full drift and extent of the parable, we may reflect, that the gifts which we are to account for, and which, according as we employ them, may be instruments of good or of evil, are either the faculties of the body, the faculties of the mind, or the advantages of situation.
With respect to the body, it is a great fault that few set such value as they ought upon the blessings of health, strength, soundness, and activity. Those who possess them are, for the most part, those who never knew the want of them; or else they would be sensible how graciously they were dealt with by their Maker, when he formed them with a vigorous constitution of body. A healthy constitution is a talent, and a talent from God. Now this talent is used as it ought to be when we employ it, and get our own living, in that station of life into which it hath pleased God to call us; when we labor honestly and faithfully, according to our portion of strength and activity, for