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The Parables Of Our Lord by William Arnot


|Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.| -- LUKE xv.8-10.

The three parables of this group, as has been already intimated, do not constitute a simple consecutive series of first, second, and third: the group consists of two parts, and the first part contains two parables. The saving of the lost is represented in the first division as it is seen from God's side, and in the second as it is seen from man's. In the first, the Saviour appears seeking, finding, and bearing back the lost; in the second, the lost appears reflecting, repenting, resolving, and returning to the Father.

The two parables which constitute the first division are generically coincident, but specifically distinct. Both represent the side on which the sinner is passive in the matter of his own salvation, and the parable of the prodigal alone represents the aspect in which he is spontaneously active; but while the first two agree in their main feature, they differ in subordinate details. The second goes partly over the same ground that has already been traversed by the first, and partly takes a new and independent track of its own.

Recognising in the lost coin mainly a repetition of the same lesson which the lost sheep contained, but justly anticipating from the mere fact of a repetition, that the second will present some features which were not contained in the first, Dr. Trench finds the expected difference in this, -- that |if the shepherd in the last parable was Christ, the woman in this may, perhaps, be the Church.| After suggesting as an alternative that the woman may represent the Holy Spirit, he remarks that these two are in effect substantially identical, and finally rests in the conclusion that it is |the Church because and in so far as it is dwelt in by the Spirit, which appears as the woman seeking her lost.| This able expositor speaks with evident hesitation when he represents the Church as the seeker here; and accordingly we find him with a happy inconsistency affirming in a subsequent paragraph that |as the woman, having lost her drachm, will light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it, even so the Lord, through the ministrations of his Church, gives diligence to recover the lost sinner,| &c. I am willing to accept the phraseology of this sentence, but it is obviously at variance with the view which he had previously presented, and to which he recurs in the close, that in this parable it is the Church which seeks the lost, while in the preceding parable it is the Saviour. Further, if he maintain that the woman seeking the lost coin represents the Lord seeking sinners through the ministrations of the Church, he must also maintain that the shepherd seeking the lost sheep represents the Lord seeking sinners through the ministrations of the Church. If the Lord himself is in both cases equally the seeker, there is no reason in the text of Scripture, and Dr. Trench suggests none from any other quarter, why he should be represented as seeking through the ministrations of the Church in one case and not in the other. The letter of the word and the nature of the case peremptorily demand that the qualification regarding the instrumentality of the Church should be attached to both or to neither. In either case it remains that, in respect to the person who seeks the lost, these two parables teach precisely the same lesson.

The house in which the coin is lost means, according to Dr. Trench, the visible Church: the result is that the Church (invisible) searches in the Church (visible) for sinners that have been lost there, and restores them when found to the Church, but whether the visible or invisible I cannot discover. The Church then calls upon the angels to rejoice with her over the recovery of the lost. This exposition seems confused and inconsistent; and it is a dim mysterious conception of |the Church| that constitutes the disturbing element.

From the similarity of structure and the studied identity of expression in the two cases, I gather surely that the persons who seek and find the lost in those two parables both represent the same Seeker of lost men, the Lord Jesus Christ. On any other supposition, I cannot find a spot on which the foundation of a satisfactory exegesis can be laid. The introduction of the second parable by the particle either ([Greek: e]) in the eighth verse, prepares us to expect, not another subject, but another illustration of the same subject; whereas, when the Prodigal Son is introduced in the eleventh verse, the connecting link distinctly indicates a change of theme.

Nor do I see any force in the minute criticism by which Dr. Trench endeavours to make out that while the sheep were the shepherd's property, the money did not belong to the woman. He says, |I have found my sheep which was lost;| while she says, |I have found the piece which I had lost;| but these are nothing more than varieties of expression. The absolute identity of the terms in which the two cases are introduced, proves that these seemly and slight variations of phraseology at the close, do not indicate a substantial difference. |What man of you having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them?| and |What woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece?| -- these questions, so carefully and completely parallel, conclusively show that, after making allowance for the necessary difference in the nature of the subjects, the two cases, in relation to possession, loss, and finding, are precisely the same.

Assuming from the fact of its repetition that some feature or features of the lesson must be contained in the second picture which the first was not fitted to display; and finding in the possessors, with their misfortune, their success and their joy, no difference, but on the contrary, a studied balanced parallelism, I look for the distinction in the nature of the property which, in the two cases respectively, was lost and found. The sheep is an animated being, with desires, and appetites, and habits, and locomotive powers; when it is lost, it is lost in virtue of its own will and activity. The silver coin, on the other hand, is a piece of inanimate matter; and when it is lost, it is lost through its own gravity and inertia. When support fails, it falls to the ground. Here lies an inherent and essential difference between the two cases. It is through this opening mainly that light comes to me regarding the specific difference between the lessons which these two cognate parables respectively convey. The inquiry at present concerns this difference only, for the doctrine which is taught in common by both is abundantly obvious. While in both examples alike the property is lost and found again, the manner of the loss and the finding corresponds in each case to the nature of the subject. In the case of the living creature, the loss is sustained through its spontaneous wandering; in the case of the inanimate silver, the loss is sustained through its inherent inertia. The one strays in the exercise of its own will, and the other sinks in obedience to the laws of matter; the method of search varies accordingly.

Both parables alike represent the sinner lost and the Saviour finding him; but in the one case the loss appears due to the positive activity of an evil will, and in the other to the passive law of gravitation. Not that, in the spiritual sphere, one sinner departs from God by an exercise of his corrupt will, and another is drawn away by the operation of an irresistible law; it is one transaction represented successively on two sides. The representations are different, but both are true. In the fallen, sin is both active and passive. The sinful select their own course and go astray in the exercise of a self-determining power; they also gravitate to evil in virtue of an inborn corruption, which acts like a law in their members. In connection with these two sides or features of sin, the two doctrines opposite and yet not contrary, the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, meet and embrace each other in the work of redemption. To the disease of sin in both its phases, -- as an active choice and an innate tendency, -- the divine physician has prepared an antidote; He brings the wanderer home, and lifts the fallen up.

Compare once more the lost sheep and the lost coin: in both the sinful are lost, and in both the Saviour saves; but there we see a spontaneous error, and here the effect of inherited corruption. These, when kept together like the right and left sides of a living man, constitute, in this matter, the whole truth: to tear them asunder is to kill both.

The number of the coins is appropriately fixed at ten, while the number of sheep was a hundred. Ten sheep would not have required or repaid the care of a shepherd; and a hundred pieces of silver would not, in ordinary circumstances, have been at one time in the hands of a working woman. The difference of numbers is fully accounted for by the natural circumstances, and no benefit is obtained by squeezing from it a distinct spiritual signification. The numbers, I think, belong to the adjuncts of the material pictures, and they constitute only elements of disturbance when they are brought into the interpretation.

The lessons which some draw from the preciousness of the metal on the one hand, and the image of the king which it bears on the other, although attractive and useful in themselves, are not relevant here. It is better to forego for the time even precious morsels of instruction, than to obtain them by doing violence to those exquisite analogies which the parables present.

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