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ON PARABOLIC TEACHING.
Mat. xiii. 34, 35.—“ All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables, and without a parable spake he not unto them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, 'I will open my mouth in parables: I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.'”
The Lord seeth not as man seeth: the Lord doeth not as man doeth: the Lord teacheth not as man teacheth. When the blessed Jesus was in this world, how
very different he was from the long expected Messiah for whom the Jews had been looking. They thought that they had gathered out of the Scriptures what Mes. siah was to be, and when Jesus came he was so different from what they had expected, out of the very
word of God that taught respecting him, that they did not know him, they would not have him. “ He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” When this same blessed Jesus stood amongst men as a teacher, how very different was he as a teacher from what people would have expected him to be—sometimes so very clear and simple, that the common people heard him gladly; at other times, indeed mingled with those very times, so very mysterious and dark, that to this present hour we feel that we are only getting a glimpse of the full mean
ing of what he spoke. But he did not do this without a purpose: we read here, “He spoke to the multitude in parables.” Instead of appearing to be a loving and kind teacher, there seems often a harshness in our Saviour's teaching : he says in this chapter, in the 13th, 14th, and 15th verses, explaining the reason of his parabolic teaching, “ Therefore speak I to them in parables ; because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaias, which saith, 'By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive, for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dúll of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted and I should heal them.'” We do, indeed, learn from this a deep lesson, that the Lord's teaching is very different from man's method of teaching.
The subject which our text brings before us to-day is one which very deeply concerns our own eternal interests. It is one that is well suited to make us search into the state of our own hearts, and to make us see whether we are those persons who, if our Lord Jesus Christ were here in person among us this morning, are in that state of mind that we could profit by his teaching, or only in that state of mind that would make us to hear in vain, and to no purpose.
“ All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables, and without a parable spake he not unto them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables : I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.'' From these words let us consider:
I. The nature of parabolic teaching ;
who alone can unfold the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, will be with all our hearts and all our understandings at this time, making us indeed to receive these mysteries into our hearts to the enlightening of our understanding.
1. Let us consider the nature of parabolic teaching.
It is simply comparison. Where there are two things that have any resemblance one to the other, and where we use one as the resemblance of the other, there we have teaching by parable. It is in the point of resemblance, and only in that one point, that the parable consists. A parable consists either of something giving us wisdom on earth, or giving us wisdom respecting spiritual things. The former sort of parable is not used by our blessed Saviour, or if it be, but very sparingly. It is once or twice used in the Old Testament scriptures; for instance, we have Jotham's parable, or rather fable, of the trees of the forest, which was not intended to teach them wisdom respecting heaven, but rather to instruct them concerning the choice of another king. The heathen fables all partook of this character. The well known fables of Æsop did not instruct them who sought therein for instruction in anything beyond worldly wisdom, and this is properly the distinction between a fable and a parable; in the manner of the instruction they are both the same, being a comparison of one thing with another. The parables of Scripture are intended, from visible or earthly things to teach the nature of spiritual and heavenly things. To interpret them rightly, therefore, we must consider what was the purpose that our Lord
had in giving them. We are not to take all the circumstances of the parable, and squeeze some doctrine out of each, but rather to consider what our Lord was about to teach; and in considering that, we shall get the principle of the interpretation, which will make the interpretation of the parables and their spiritual meaning simple and plain. The nature of parabolic instruction, therefore, is simply this : that it is intended to teach us about spiritual and heavenly things, by that which comes within the reach of our natural understanding, by the visible things around us, or by the social things around us, to lead our minds to think of invisible or heavenly and eternal things. If this be, then, the nature of parabolic teaching, let us consider, secondly, the necessity of it.
We do not see God, we only know him from his works, we do not see Heaven, we only know it by comparison or by the deep impression which God's Spirit can make upon the spirit of man. We cannot see principles, we can only perceive their operations in the world.
Now the necessity of a parable is two-fold ;
1. To assist us in seeing and knowing that by comparison which we could not otherwise have known.
2. To exercise our minds in the ability to discern not things but principles.
Let us take some thoughtless uninstructed, totally ignorant man into that great exhibition of the industry of all nations, which is now the wonder of our age, what would be the impression upon his mind? Simply that of wondering, he would go through the whole and obtain very little instruction, he would indeed see a large building, larger than he had ever seen before, a great collection of things, the nature and uses and purposes of
which he would but little understand, he would go out again impressed with ignorant wonder, but as to real instruction, he would derive
little from it. Take some other person well read in the history of the world, thoughtful, about all the conflicts of nations, acquainted with the history of the human family, the struggles and difficulties, the sins and the capacities of the human
The same man instructed with regard to the pärposes of God, in the past, the present, and the future. To him what would that same exhibition be? Every gaze that he took at it would bring some new thought to his mind If he were to see that vast building and think of the short time in which it had been got up, could he look at it without reflecting upon the power, the industry, the thrift, the skill and diligence that collccted so many wonders together? Could he look at it to no purpose ? How many lessons of worldly and moral instruction would he derive from that building, and if he were a well informed man as he went from one thing to another, how much instruction would he get from all the improvements that he would see around him ? just in proportion to the knowledge he took into that place. But his thoughts would not end here, if he were one taught of God, if he were one whose mind dwelt much in heaven, and whose hopes looked to a heavenly future beyond this world's history, he would see other things and other sights in that visible collection of wonders before him. In that said “ Palace of Peace” he would see nothing but the world's peace, and however he might rejoice at the temporary quiet of which this was at once the exhibition and the fruit he would remember what God's word says "For when they shall say peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a