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that this mode of speech owed its origin to the tyranoic and despotic character of the governments of oriental nations. When a few are clothed with absolute authority and the rest of the community are degraded to the character of slaves, it would be hazardous to use much plaioness of speech.' Rebuke, censure or reproof, if administered at all, must be done in the most delicate and unobtrusive manner; and parables were considered as the most unexceptionable method in which the unwelcome truth could be told. One signal advantage in the use of parabolic language is, in obtaining from those to whom it is addressed an unpremeditated assent to its correctness, by overlooking its immediate application to themselves. By this means they give a verdict against themselves, and thus absolve the speaker from performing that unpleasant and often dangerous task. We have many instances of this, both in profane and sacred history. When Meninius Agrippa, a famous Roman general and consul, was deputed by the Senate to appease a dangerous tumult and insurrection of the people, he effected his purpose by relating the memorable fable or parable of the belly and its members. The disaffected populace were instructed from this ingenious fable that, as the refusal of the members to supply the wants of the belly, would only eventuate in their own ruin, so would the refusal of the people to obey the laws of their country and support the government which protected them, only bring on them irreparable destruction, since they as much depended for their security on the government, as that government did on them for its support.
In sacred history one of the most pointed parables on record is that delivered by the prophet Nathan to David, concerning the 'poor man's ewe lamb. King David, unconscious of the application which would be made of it, can scarcely restrain his resentment till the tale is told,' and when it is brought to a close he exclaims with vehement indignation, 'As the Lord liveth, the man that has done this thing, shall surely die ; and be shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.' Here David had unconsciously passed sentence against himself, and his unpremeditated exclamation pointed out the just reprehension to which he was amenable.
In the New Testament the sentiment of universal philanthropy is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan ; and he who enquired of Christ, who is my neighbour? finds no difficulty in answering this question (which he had proposed as justifying the neglect of impartial benevolence) when the Saviour's parable is closed. He candidly acknowledged that he who showed mercy' was indeed neighbour to him who sell among thieves.
The mind of the reader will now be ready to appreciate a remark which we have to make on parables, and which we consider of the utmost importance. In commenting on parables or similitudes, especial care should be taken, to discover the object and design, together with those prominent and leading circumstances by which the author illustrates his subject. In this respect, it bears affinity to a fable. In reading a fable, we look for the moral ; so in a parable we should consider the great object it had in view. There is no parable which will admit of being 'broken to pieces,' and each separate part made to apply to the subject; but it is to be taken as a whole, and the general likeness to be considered, and not the exact resemblance of each particular feature. Want of attention to this most reasonable and salutary course has produced many silly and inconsistent speculations. Attempts have been made to find a perfect resemblance in all the parts between the two objects which were brought together, and it has not unfrequently happened, that by this nice attention to the minutia, the general design has been overlooked. The rule given by Maimonides in his Moreh Nevochim is exactly to our purpose : ‘Fix it as a principle (says he) to attach yourself to ihe grand object of the parable, without attempting to make a particular application of all the circumstances and terms which it comprehends.' This is the judicious remark of a Jewish Rabbi, a man well calculated to give a correct opinion.
From the preceding observations, we shall see the propriety of exercising great caution in building upon parables. They are always more or less figurative, and what may appear plain to one mind may be indistinct to another. In this respect, there is a strong analogy between our mental and physical faculties. That which strikes the visual organs of one man as a correct resemblance, has no such effect on the sight of another. To insist, therefore, on certain doctrines, and to require faith in them, when they have no other authority for their support than a parable, would be as inconsistent, as to require a man to confess a likeness in the features of a third person, when no such resemblance struck him.
We consider it important to make another remark. A parable may be very plain at one time and to a particular people, which can have no application at a future period or to a people differently circumstanced. This is no doubt the case with many, perhaps we might say most, of our Saviour's parables. It is therefore the business of the biblical student to pay special attention to the particular people or individuals to whom he addressed his parables, as well as to the time and circumstances under which they were uttered.
C. F. L. F.
ILLUSTRATIONS.--The rule which our correspondent has here laid down, to interpret parables in the gross rather than in minute detail, is so important and yet so imperfectly understood, that it may be useful to subjoin the following illustrations. They are taken for the most part from “Storr's Dissertation on the Parables of Christ, translated and published in a voluine of `Essays and Dissertations on Biblical Literature, by a Society of Clergymen,' in New York, 1829.
Since most of the parables in the Scriptures have the form of narratives or brief stories, it often happens, as in the case of fables generally, that certain particulars are introduced for no other purpose than to complete the narrative, or to give it interest, but without any reference whatsoever to the subject intended to be set forth by the parable. For example, in the parables by which the kingdom of heaven is likened to a grain of mustard seed, and to leaven bià in meal, it was not necessary, so far as regards the instruction conveyed, to mention the man who sowed the seed, and the woman who hid the leaven. We find them however introduced, but merely to give an air of reality to the narratives, by exhibiting as it were individual examples of what might have been described in a rpore general and therefore feebler manner: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof..... The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened.'1 Here it is evident that the man, the woman, and the birds of the air, go to constitute merely the frame work, not the significant emblems, of the parable; and that the only fact meant to be taught, is, that the kingdom of heaven, though very small in its commencement, would spread abroad and diffuse itself through the whole mass. In the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the narrative is rendered much more definite and consequently much more striking, by the rich man mentioning a certain number of brothers, my five brethren.' Had he been represented as speaking of them in a general way, as if he were ignorant or thoughtless of their number, the meaning of the parable would indeed have suffered no loss, but it would have impaired the interest of the parable itself, since it would have been less strongly characteristic of nature. Here, it would be absurd therefore to seek an application of the number five, to the subject signified. As it best suited the style of narrative to speak of a definite number, all that was needful was to fix on some certain number not in itself incredible; and in doing this, it mattered not whether five or any other number, say four, was selected. Nor is it certain that even the mention of his brethren is to be taken into view at all in the application of the parable, since it seems to have been introduced merely to give occasion for the instructive answer, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.'
* Matt. xiii. 31, &c.
The remarks we have just made may be applied to the use of the number ten in the parable of the ten servants to whom their lord delivered ten pounds for improvement till his return;3 and also in the parable of the virgins. A particular number, it seems a favorite one, was specified in these cases, because that in all similar occurrences in actual life the number of the persons concerned is of course definite, and it was desirable in a fictitious narrative to preserve as far as convenient the appearance of reality.
reality. In stating the number of the servants, therefore, and likewise of the virgins, our Lord cannot be thought to have had any reference to corresponding particulars in the subjects signified by the respective parables. He probably took the first which occurred to him, or that which the nature of the supposed case happened to suggest. And as the virgins in the latter parable were to be distinguished into two sorts, the whole number, ten, was divided into two smaller parts. These he made equal
: Luke xvi. 19, &c.
3 Luke xix. 12, &c.
- Matt. xxv. 1, &c.
, five and five; because perhaps this method of division is the most simple and natural of all, not because he meant to intimate that the number of watchful Christians and of careless would be equal. Indeed, in the parable of the talents, which immediately follows that of the ten virgins, the faithful believers are signified by two servants, while the unfaithful are represented by only one. In both parables, the number has nothing to do with what may be called the moral of the fable; it was a matter of mere convenience, taste or accident. In the parable of the leaven, again, the narrative becomes much more neat and probable, by its specifying the particular number of three measures of the meal, since some definite quantity must have been employed in any real occurrence of that kind; although there is no discoverable relation between the object of the parable and the number three. For similar reasons, we need not attach any special importance to the mention of three years in the parable of the barren fig-tree, which represented the nation of the Jews : 'A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard ; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found Done. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years come I, seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none; cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering, said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.' 6 It does indeed so happen that Christ preached among the Jews for the space of three years; but there is probably no allusion to this circumstance, since they were afterwards indulged with a much longer opportunity of hearing the gospel and of bringing forth the fruits required. Nor does it seem that we are to seek, in the application of the parable, for anything corresponding to the dresser of the vineyard and the dialogue between him and the owner; for it is more natural to regard these as introduced to enliven the narrative. The whole appears rather to have conveyed to the Jews, to whom it was addressed, this general admonition : that God, who for a long time had discovered in them no fruits worthy of the excellent instructions they had received, would yet grant them a period, short indeed, but dis
5 Matt. xxv. 14, &c.
8 Luke xiii. 6, &c.