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5. The parables did not contain the fundamental precepts and doctrines of the Gospel, which were delivered in the audience of the people with sufficient perspicuity in Matt. v.-vii. and elsewhere, but only the mysteries relative to its progress among both Jews and Gentiles.
6. Lastly, the Jews were addressed in parables, because, as their wickedness and perverseness indisposed them to receive profit from his more plain discourses, Jesus Christ would not vouchsafe to them To" have ears and hear not," a clearer knowledge of these events. is a proverbial expression, to describe men who are so wicked and slothful, that they either do not attend to, or will not follow, the clearest intimations and convictions of their duty. See instances of this expression in Jer. v. 21. and Ezek. xii. 2. To this remark we may add, with reference to the quotations from Isaiah vi. 9, 10. that it is common for God to speak, by his prophets, of events that would happen, in a manner as if he had enjoined them.2
V. Whoever attentively considers the character of our Saviour, merely as a moral teacher and instructor of mankind, will clearly perceive his superiority to the most distinguished teachers of antiquity. Through the whole of his Gospel, he discovers a deep and thorough insight into human nature, and seems intimately acquainted with all the subtle malignities and latent corruptions of the human heart, as well as with all the allusions and refinements of self-idolatry, and the windings and intricacies of self-deceit. How admirably the manner, in which he conveyed his instructions, was adapted to answer the end and design of them, we have already seen; we might indeed almost venture to appeal to his parables alone for the authenticity of our Lord's mission as a divine teacher: all of them, indeed, are distinguished by a dignity of sentiment, and a simplicity of expression, perfectly becoming the purity and excellence of that religion which he came to establish. The whole system of heathen mythology was the invention of the poets; a mere farrago of childish and romantic stories, chiefly calculated to amuse the vulgar. As the far greater part of their fables and allegories are founded on this fictitious history of the gods, so they were plainly subservient to the support of that system of idolatry aad polytheism which the Gospel was designed to overthrow. If any secret meaning was conveyed under these allegorical representations, (which seems, however, to be very doubtful,) it was at any rate too refined and philosophical to be understood by the common people, whose religious knowledge and belief extended no farther than the literal sense of the words. The moral instruction, if any was intended, must be dug out of the rubbish of poetical images, and superstitious conceits. And, as these were founded on a false system of the universe, and on unworthy sentiments of God, and his moral government, they could never contribute to the religious improve
1 Grotius and Whitby on Matt. xiii. 10. Dr. Whitby has collected passages showing the proverbial use of having ears and hearing not, from Philo (Alleg. lib. ii. p. 72. D. and lib. iii. p. 850. E.), and from Demosthenes. (Orat. in Aristogeton, sect. 127.)
2 See Bishop Lowth's Note on Isa. vi. 10.
ment of mankind either in knowledge or in practice. Let any man of true taste and judgment compare the abstruse allegories of Plato, or the monstrous fables of the Jewish Talmuds, with the parables of our Saviour, he will be at no loss which to prefer; while, tired and disgusted with the one, he will be struck with admiration at the beauty, elegance, and propriety of the other.
Further, the parables of Jesus far excel the fables of antiquity in clearness and perspicuity, which made them remarkably fit for the instruction of the ignorant and prejudiced, for whom they were originally designed. Our Saviour's images and allusions are not only taken from nature, but especially from those objects and occurrences which are most familiar to our observation and experience. It requires no laborious search, no stretch of imagination, to discover his meaning, in all cases where he intended instruction or reproof, as appears evident from the impressions immediately produced on the minds of his hearers, according to their different tempers and dispositions. Such of his parables indeed, as predicted the nature and progress of the Gospel dispensation, and the opposition which it should meet from the malice of Satan and the folly of mankind,1 were purposely left to be explained by the events to which they refer, and with which they so exactly correspond, that their meaning soon became plain and obvious to all. It is, morever, particularly worthy of observation, that the moral instructions conveyed by the parables of the Gospel, are of the most important nature, and essential to our duty and best interests. They do not serve merely to amuse the imagination, but to enlighten the understanding, and to purify the heart. They aim at no less an object than the happiness of mankind in a future and eternal state. The doctrines of the soul's immortality and future judgment, are the ground-work of our Lord's parables; and to illustrate and confirm these fundamental principles, is their main and leading design. They all terminate in this point, and describe the awful scenes of eternity, and the interesting consequences of that decisive trial, in a language, though simple and unadorned, yet amazingly striking and impressive. But the fabulous representations of the heathen poets on this subject, were more fitted to amuse than to instruct: they served rather to extinguish than revive the genuine sentiments of nature, and consequently to weaken the influence of this doctrine as a principle of virtuous conduct.
There is also a pleasing variety in the parables of Jesus. Some of them comprehend no dialogue, and scarcely any action, and are little more than a simple comparison between the subject to be investigated and something very well known. In others may be traced the outlines of a complete drama. The obscurity which may be thought to lie in some of them, wholly arises from our not clearly understanding his character, or that of his audience, or the occasion on which he spoke; except where the subject itself rendered some obscurity unavoidable.
1 Of this description, for instance, are the parables of the sower, of the tares, and of the labourers in the vineyard.
Conciseness is another excellence of the parables of Christ. Scarce a single circumstance or expression can be taken away from any of them, without injuring the whole. They also comprehend the most extensive and important meaning in the shortest compass of narration; and afford at the same time the largest scope to the judgment and reflection of the reader. An extraordinary candour and charity likewise pervade all the parables of Jesus. He gives the most favourable representations of things. In the parable of the lost sheep, he supposes but one of a hundred to go astray; yet the good shepherd leaves the rest, to go in quest of this. In the parable of the ten virgins, he supposes the number of the wise to be equal to that of the foolish. In that of the prodigal, for one son that takes a riotous course, there is another that continued in his duty. In that of the ten talents, two are supposed to improve what is committed to them, for one that does not improve it. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham uses the term Son to the former, though in the place of punishment; and he is represented as still retaining kind regards to his brethren. A name is delicately withheld from the character that is blameable, while one is given to the good.
An exact propriety and decorum is observed in all the parables of Christ, and every thing that is spoken is suited to the character of the person who speaks it. His parables surpass all others, in being so natural and probable that they have the air of truth rather than of fiction. Generosity and decorum are so strongly manifested in the character of the compassionate Samaritan, that the Jewish lawyer, whose prejudices and passions would be all excited by the very name, could not withhold his approbation of it. There is also great candour and propriety in the selection and adjustment of the two characters. Had a Jew or a Samaritan been represented as assisting a fellowcountryman, or a Jew assisting a Samaritan, the story would have been less convincing and impressive. "In the parable of the murmuring labourers, the proprietor of the vineyard assembles the labourers in the evening all together to receive their wages, begins to pay those who were called at the latest hour, and proceeds gradually to the first invited. This circumstance with the greatest propriety introduces their complaint. It also discovers candour and integrity in the judge, in allowing them to be witnesses of his distribution, in attentively hearing their objections, and calmly pointing out how groundless and unreasonable they were. In the parable of the barren fig-tree, the keeper of the vineyard is with great propriety and candour introduced as interceding earnestly for a further respite and trial to the tree, and enforcing his plea from weighty considerations." In what an amiable and proper light is the generous creditor in the parable represented, and with what natural simplicity. "Then the Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt." What ingenuous sorrow appears in the character of the prodigal? What natural affection, generosity, and forwardness to forgive, in the parent?
1 Law's Life of Christ, p. 325. note,
Besides the regard paid by Jesus Christ to historical propriety in the incidental circumstances (which has been already noticed in pp. 614, 615.), it is a peculiar excellence of the parables of Christ, that the actors in them are not the inferior creatures, but men. He leads us sometimes to draw instruction from the inferior animals, and the process of things in the vegetable world, as well as nature in general. But men are the more proper actors in a scene, and speakers in a dialogue, formed for the instruction of mankind. Men add to the significance without diminishing the ease and familiarity of the narration. In the fables of Æsop, and of the Hindoos, as well as of the Jewish prophets, inferior creatures, and even vegetables, are introduced as
Another distinguishing character of our Lord's parables is, the frequent introduction of his own character into them, as the principal figure, and in views so various, important, and significant; for instance, the sower; the vine-dresser; the proprietor of an estate; the careful shepherd; the just master; the kind father; the splendid bridegroom; the potent nobleman; the heir of a kingdom; and the king upon his throne of glory judging the whole world of mankind. A striking contrast hence arises between the simplicity of the descriptions and the dignity of the speaker.
A further material circumstance which characterises the parables of Christ is, that he spake them just as occasions were offered; in the ordinary course of his conversation and instruction; privately as well as publicly; to his own disciples; to the multitude; and to the Pharisees and chief rulers. An accidental question, or unexpected event, appears to have been the occasion of some of them. For instance, that of the good Samaritan, when he was asked, "Who is my neighbour?" that of the rich man, whose ground brought forth plentifully, when he was desired to determine a suit concerning an estate; that of the barren fig-tree, when he was told of the Galileans whom Pilate had massacred; that of a certain man who made a great supper, when he was present at a splendid entertainment; and those of the careful shepherd, the prodigal son, the unjust steward, and the inhuman rich Jew, when a great number of publicans and sinners, and of Pharisees and Scribes, happened to be present, and the latter murmured against him, and insulted him. No man, except Jesus, ever did speak in parables, unpremeditated, and on various occasions. No man is now capable of conveying instruction in the like manner. No instructor can ever presume to be equal to him, nor so much as to imitate or resemble him.
Again; the parables of our Lord were admirably adapted to the time when, the place in which, and the persons to whom, they were delivered; while they were also fitted for the general instruction of mankind in all ages. These compositions of Christ were likewise all original. Dr. Lightfoot and others have shown that Jesus often borrowed proverbs and phrases from the Jews. But an inspired teacher
See Wilkins's, or Sir W. Jones's, Translation of the Fables of Veshnoo-Sarma.
would not surely propose whole parables, that were in common use, for his own. Nor does it appear that any body used the parables of Christ before his time; for those which are alleged out of the Talmudical or other Jewish writers, were all penned some ages after his birth. For instance, the parable of the householder and the labourers, which is extant in the Jerusalem Gemara, was written an age and a half as least after the destruction of the temple. It is more probable, therefore, that it was written in imitation of Christ, than borrowed from any antient tradition. The same may be said of many others; as Matt. xviii. 17. out of the book of Musar; and of another parable like that, Matt. xxv. 1. of the ten virgins.2
If Jesus had borrowed whole parables, or discourses, it would scarcely have been remarked so often, that he spake as one who had authority, and not as the Scribes; nor would the extraordinary wisdom of his instructions have so much astonished his auditors. Further; the Scribes and Pharisees would have been glad to have exposed him by proclaiming to the people, that he was indebted to the Rabbis for what gained him the reputation of superior sagacity. This also would have been a plausible argument to have retorted upon him, when he opposed their traditions.
To conclude, it is a singular excellency in the Gospel parables, that, though they were for the most part occasional, and wisely adapted by our Saviour to the characters and circumstances of the persons to whom they were originally addressed, yet they contain most wholesome instructions and admonitions for all ages of the world, and for every future period of his church. They are at once excellently accommodated to the comprehensions of the vulgar, and capable of instructing and delighting the most learned and judicious. In short, all the parables of Christ "are beautiful; the truest delineation of human manners, embellished with all those graces which an unaffected lovely simplicity of diction is able to bestow,-graces beyond the reach of the most elaborate artifice of composition. But two of the number shine among the rest with unrivalled splendour; and we may safely challenge the genius of antiquity to produce, from all his stores of elegance and beauty, such specimens of pathetic unlaboured description, as the parables of the prodigal son and the good Samaritan."
ON SCRIPTURE PROVERBS.
I. Nature of Proverbs. Prevalence of this mode of instruction.II. Different kinds of Proverbs. -III. The Proverbs occurring in the New Testament, how to be interpreted.
I. THE inhabitants of Palestine, in common with other oriental nations, were much in the use of proverbs, or detached aphorisms;
1 Mast. xx. 1-16.
2 Le Clerc on Matt. xx. 15.
3 Dr. Gray's Delineation of the Parables, pp. 19. 21. (Edinburgh, 1814, 8vo.) Monthly Review, O. S. vol. Ivii. p. 196. Wakefield's Internal Evidences of Christianity, p. 36. Simpson's Internal and Presumptive Evidences of Christianity, pp. 403-422