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ON OUR SAVIOUR'S TEACHING IN PARABLES.
MATTHEW xiii. 10.
And the disciples came and said unto him, Why speakest thou
unto them in parables ?
It was our Saviour's general custom, when he addressed a mixed audience, to clothe his instructions in the form of parables. His reasons for this were not understood by his disciples,—who, indeed, till they were miraculously enlightened from above, were remarkable rather for the ingenuousness of their tempers and the simplicity of their manners, than for any acuteness of intellect.
At the time of their proposing to him the question in the text, he had been delivering to a numerous auditory, the celebrated parable of the sower,-a parable that abounds in clear and apposite circumstances, and sets forth to every attentive mind the wisdom and justice of God's moral government. That it was intended to convey some forcible instruc
tion is obvious, from the admonitory and inviting remark with which he ended it,—“ Who hath ears to bear, let him hear.”
It is plain that the disciples judged as many others do, that all instruction should be so clearly communicated, and so undisguised, as to be at once intelligible even to an ordinary capacity. In most cases, it certainly should be so ; but there are occasions, especially where men's feelings and prejudices are strongly interested, on which it is wiser and safer to use an indirect method. With regard to parables : they are the most pleasing dress in which a moral or religious admonition can be presented to the mind. We are delighted with their imagery of natural and familiar objects. They excite our curiosity, and make a lively impression on the memory. They exercise our ingenuity, in searching out truth under the disguise of fable. To the teacher, they are of use ; as they serve him for a test to discover men's inclinations, and to distinguish the docile and tractable from the obstinate and conceited, by the readiness with which they apply, or the indifference with which they overlook, the moral of his allegory. They are admirably suited for conveying a reproof; for, by a delicate address, they may reclaim such persons as are too proud to bear a severe and open reprimand.
No one has, strictly speaking, a claim to instruction, who is not desirous, or, at least, willing, to receive it: -and when we admit that men ought to be instructed, it is supposed that all are duly sensible of its value
and importance. A want of sensibility on this point, when the mind has no natural incapacity, is not a misfortune, but a fault. It is voluntary ; because the individual might be enlightened, if he chose. Besides, there are, in all ages, numbers of men, whose vanity and self-will make them deaf to all remonstrance, and even to salutary admonition ;—and when such form a considerable part of a public audience, an address by parable is certainly as fit as any other method, since all methods will be equally neglected. It is, as I have before hinted, the most prudent and pacific method, in cases in which an open rebuke would not merely be slighted, but would give offence :-for even if it suggests no useful information, it raises no ferment of shame or anger. Persons who are capable of instruction, and yet are determined to disregard it, seldom stop there, but are apt to feel an animosity against him who too frankly and explicitly obtrudes it upon them. To relieve themselves from what they conceive to be officiousness, they will misinterpret his words and his intentions ; and the nicer the point of debate, the keener will be their resentment. To such hearers, the parable is better adapted than any other medium ; for they look at its simplicity, without noticing the wisdom and dexterity of its scope.
For the most part, it only amuses : at least, it gives no room for angry accusation. It wounds those only who apply it to themselves ;- but these will be too reserved to publish their sensations to others.
Here we see one reason of our Saviour's “speaking in parables” to the unconverted Jews. We see also why it was that to the most obstinate of them he gave no offence, even by the severest and most pointed of those discourses. Their great aim was to ensnare him in his words; yet as long as he with held his own explanation of them, his adversaries could not with certainty, fix upon him his intended meaning ;-and they were too cautious to ask for it, because they knew that it must be at their own expense, -that it must expose those vices of theirs, and that depravity, with which they were unwilling to be upbraided. He, accordingly, answers the question of his disciples, by saying—“I speak to them in parables ; because they seeing see not, and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.”
If wisdom, communicated in the most attractive form, can gain no reception, a teacher does but expose himself to derision and insult, by proceeding to open reproof. Our Saviour's conduct, therefore, towards those who were either virulent or prejudiced against him, is, in this view of the subject, consistent with that meekness and that prudence, which so eminently distinguished him. To exemplify these remarks, let us divest any one of his parables, this of the sower for instance, of its feigned allusions, and see how his discourse would have been worded as a direct and inartificial address.“ Some of you, my countrymen, though you receive lessons of righteousness and truth, suffer, by your heedlessness, the enemy
of souls, the wicked one,' to efface from your hearts every holy impression ; and then you abandon yourselves to his instigations. Some of you love the truth for a time, while it is accompanied with ease and pleasure ; but as soon as any trial or persecution arises, you then discard it,--and prefer wickedness with prosperity to virtue with distress. Others of you are so immersed in the cares and business of the world, and are such slaves to your temporal pursuits, as never to bestow a serious thought upon the great essential duties of religion.” Had our blessed Lord censured the unworthy part of his audience in this bold and open style, they would have set no bounds to their fury. They would have cast stones at him in every direction, and his person would never have been safe. Miracles must daily have been wrought, to prolong his divine ministry to the period assigned him by the will of the Father. God, however, though he is bountiful of miracles when a crisis demands them, does not display them but in extraordinary
The Messiah must finish his earthly course, and fulfil the merciful work of men's salvation, without the agency of any miraculous power for his own individual protection :—that protection, if he enjoys it at all, as far as the malice of his enemies is concerned, he must secure by his own sagacity, prudence, and forbearance. He must unite the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove. The wisdom, therefore, of his frequent use of parables appears in every instance of the evangelical history;