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duced only wild fruit- -announces at its close, that by the vineyard were intended the Jews, and by the wild fruit their enormous wickedness, for which they deserved the severest judgments. Nathan, also, in the beautiful parable already cited, subjoined a declaration of its scope to the criminal sovereign. In the short parable, or apologue, communicated from Jehoash king of Israel to Amaziah king of Judah (2 Kings xiv. 9, 10.), the application of it to the latter is explicitly stated at its conclusion.
(3.) Where no declaration is prefixed or subjoined to a parable, its scope must be collected from a consideration of the subject-matter, context, or the occasion on account of which the parable was delivered.
Thus, in the parable of the barren fig-tree (Luke xiii. 5-9.), Jesus Christ has indicated nothing concerning its scope. But from the consideration of the context of his discourse, and of the occasion of the parable, we learn that it was designed to teach the Jews, that unless they repented within the space of time allotted to them by Infinite Mercy, severe punishments would await then, and their civil and religious polity be destroyed. The immediate occasion of the parable was, his disciples telling him of certain Galileans, who had come up to the temple at Jerusalem, to worship, and whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. On hearing this circumstance, Christ said, Suppose ye, that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered these things? I tell you, nay: But except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Having repeated the last sentence a second time, he delivered the parable of the barren fig-tree.
In like manner, to the parable of the prodigal son nothing is prefixed or subjoined; but the relation occurs immediately after two others, in which it was declared that the return of penitent sinners affords joy in heaven. This however, is an important topic, and will require to be more particularly considered. From the observations already made on the general nature of parables, it will be easily perceived that the objects of our Lord's parables were various; such as the conveying either of instruction or reproof, the correcting or preventing of errors; the instructing of men in the knowledge of some truths which could be viewed with advantage only at a distance, or of others, which would have startled them when plainly proposed. Further, there were truths which were necessary to be conveyed, respecting the establishment of his religion, and the conduct of his dis ciples on occasion of that event. These subjects required to be touched with a delicate hand; and a few instances will show that each of them was conducted with the highest grace and propriety.
Thus, the worldly spirit of the Pharisees is delicately yet strikingly reproved in the parables of the rich man whose grounds brought forth plentifully (Luke xii. 15—21. ;) which was spoken to show the folly of covetousness,of the unjust steward (Luke xvi. 1.), to show the proper use of wealth,-and of the rich man and the beggar (Luke xvi. 19-31.), to show the danger of abusing it. The selfishness and bigotry of the the same sect, which characteristic in some degree applied to the whole Jewish nation, who "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others," is convicted in the parables of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the temple, of the two sons commanded to work in the vineyard, of the guest who chose the highest seat at the table, of the lost sheep and money, of the prodigal son, and of the good Samaritan. In several of these parables the comparative merit of the Jew and Gentile world is justly though faintly stated, on purpose to abase the pride of the one and to exalt the humble hopes of the other.
Another class of parables is designed to deliver some general lessons of wisdom and piety: such are the parables of the ten virgins and the talents. The parables of the sower and of the tares, and many of the lesser parables, are designed to show the nature and progress of the Gospel dispensation, together with the opposition which would be made to it from the malice of Satan, and the folly and perverseness of mankind. With these are closely connected such parables as have for their object the rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles: under this head are comprised the parallels of the murmuring labourers, of the cruel and unjust husbandmen, the barren fig-tree, and the marriage feast. By considering the occasions upon which these and other parables were delivered by the Redeemer of the world, we shall be enabled, not only to ascertain their scope and design, but also to perceive their wisdom, beauty, and propriety.
5. Wherever the words of Jesus seem to be capable of different senses, we may with certainty conclude that to be the true one which lies most level to the apprehension of his auditors.
Allowing for those figurative expressions which were so very frequent and fa
miliar with them, and which therefore are no exceptions to this general rule, this necessary canon of interpretation, of all others, demands the most attention.
6. As every parable has two senses, the LITERAL or external, and the MYSTICAL or internal sense, the literal sense must be first explained, in order that the correspondence between it and the mystical sense may be the more readily perceived.
For instance," the parable of the unforgiving servant represents, literally, that his lord forgave him a debt of ten thousand talents: - mystically, or spiritually, that God remits to the penitent the punishment of innumerable offences. Literally, it states that this servant, on his refusal to exercise forbearance towards his fellow-servant, was delivered over to the tormentors: mystically, that God will inflict the severest judgments on all who do not forgive others their trespasses. The unity of sense in both interpretations is easily perceptible:"1 whence it fol lows that every parable must be consistent throughout, and that the literal sense must not be confounded with the mystical sense. Hence also it follows, that since the scope and application of parables are the chief points to be regarded,
7. It is not necessary, in the interpretation of parables, that we should anxiously insist upon every single word; nor ought we to expect too curious an adaptation or accommodation of it in every part to the spiritual meaning inculcated by it; for many circumstances are introduced into parables which are merely ornamental, and designed to make the similitude more pleasing and interesting.
Inattention to this obv.us rule has led many expositors into the most fanciful explanations: resemblances have been accumulated, which are for the most part futile, or at best of little use, and manifestly not included in the scope of the parable. Where, indeed, circumstantial resemblances (though merely ornamental) will admit of an easy and natural application, they are by no means to be overlooked and it is worthy of remark, that in those parables which our Lord himself explained to his disciples, there are few, if any, of the circumstantial points left unapplied; but here great judgment is necessary neither to do too little, nor to attempt too much.2 In the application, then, of this rule, there are two points to
(1.) Persons are not to be compared with persons, but things with things; part is not to be compared with part, but the whole of the parable with itself.
Thus, we read in Matt. xiii. 24. The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field and in verse 45. The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls. The similitude here is not with the men, but with the seed and the pearl; and the construction is to be the same as in verse 31. and 33., where the progress of the Gospel is compared to the grain of mustard seed, and to leaven.
(2.) In parables it is not necessary that all the actions of men, mentioned in them, should be just actions, that is to say, morally just and honest.
For instance, the unjust steward (Luke xvi. 1-8.) is not proposed either to justify his dishonesty, or as an example to us in cheating his lord (for that is merely ornamental, and introduced to fill up the story); but as an example of his care and prudence, in providing for the future. From the conduct of this man, our Lord took occasion to point out the management of worldly men, as an example of attention to his followers in their spiritual affairs; and at the same time added an impressive exhortation to make the things of this life subservient to their everlasting happiness; assuring them, that if they did not use temporal blessings as they ought, they could never be qualified to receive spiritual blessings. So again, in Luke xii. 39. and Rev. iii. 3. the coming of Christ is compared to the coming of a thief, not in respect of theft, but of the sudden surprise. "It is not necessary," says a great master of eloquence, “that there should be a perfect resemblance of one thing in all respects to another; but it is necessary that a thing should bear a likeness to that with which it is compared."3
8. Attention to historical circumstances, as well as an acquaintance
1 Bishop Vanmildert's Bampton Lectures, p. 236.
3 Non enim res tota toti rei necesse est similis sit; sed ad ipsum, ad quod conferetur, similitudinem habeat, oportet. CICERO ad Herennium, lib. iv. c. 48. tom. i. p. 122. edit. Bipont.
with the nature and properties of the things whence the similitudes are taken, will essentially contribute to the interpretation of parables.
(1.) Some of the parables related in the New Testament are supposed to be true histories: in the incidental circumstances of others, our Saviour evidently had a regard to historical propriety. Thus, the scene of that most beautiful and instructive parable of the good Samaritan (Luke x. 30-37.) is very appositely placed in that dangerous road which lay between Jerusalem and Jericho; no way being more frequented than this, both on account of its leading to Peræa, and especially because the classes or stations of the Priests and Levites were fixed at Jericho as well as at Jerusalem: and hence it is that a Priest and a Levite are mentioned as travelling this way. It further appears, that at this very time Judea in general was overrun by robbers, and that the road between Jericho and Je rusalem (in which our Lord represents this robbery to have been committed) was particularly infested by banditti, whose depredations it favoured, as it lay through a dreary solitude. On account of these frequent robberies, we are informed by Jerome that it was called the Bloody Way 2
(2.) Again, in the parable of a nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return (Luke xix. 12.), our Lord alludes to a case, which, no long time before, had actually occurred in Judæa. Those who, by hereditary succession, or by interest, had pretensions to the Jewish throne, travelled to Rome, in order to have it confirmed to them. Herod the Great first went that long journey to obtain the kingdom of Judæa from Antony, in which he succeeded: and having received the kingdom,3 he afterwards travelled from Judæa to Rhodes, in order to obtain a confirmation of it from Cæsar, in which he was equally successful.4 Archelaus, the son and successor of Herod, did the same; and to him our Lord most probably alluded.5 Every historical circumstance is beautifully interwoven by our Saviour in this instructive parable.
(3.) Of the further benefit to be derived from history in the interpretation of parables, the similes in Matt. xiii. 31, 32. will afford a striking illustration: in these parables the progress of the Gospel is compared to a grain of mustard seed, and to leaven nothing is subjoined to these verses, by way of explanation. What then is their scope? Jesus Christ was desirous of accustoming his disciples te parabolic instruction: from this design, however, we cannot collect the sense of the parables; we have therefore no other resource but history. Since, then, Jesus Christ is speaking of the progress of the Christian church, we must consult ecclesiastical history, which informs us that, from small beginnings, the church of Christ has grown into a vast congregation, that is spread over the whole world.
In order that we may enter fully into the meaning of this parable of our Lord, it may not be irrelevant to observe that in eastern countries the mustard-plant (or at least, a species of the war, which the orientals comprehended under that name,) attains a greater size than with us. It appears that the orientals were accustomed to give the denomination of trees to plants growing to the height of ten or twelve feet, and having branches in proportion. To such a height the mustard-plant grows in Judæa; and its branches are so strong and well covered with leaves, as to afford shelter to the feathered tribe. Such is the image by which Jesus Christ represents the progress of his Gospel. The kingdom of heaven, said he, is like to a grain of mustard seed-small and contemptible in its beginning; which is indeed the least of all seeds, that is, of all those seeds, with which the Jews were then acquainted: (for our Lord's words are to be interpreted by popular use and we learn from Matt. xvii. 20. that, like a grain of mustard seed was a proverbial expression to denote a small quantity:) but when it is grown, it becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air
1 Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in loc.
2 Jerome, cited by Calmet, in loc. 4 Ibid. lib. xv. c. vi. § 6, 7.
3 Josephus, Ant. Jud. lib. xiv. c. xiv. § 4, 5.
5 See an illustration of this parable, as referring to Archelaus, in Vol. III. Part II. Chap. II. Sect. I. § III.
6 See Lightfoot's and Schoettgenius's Hore Hebraicæ et Talmudice, in Matt.:siii. 31, 32.
come and lodge in the branches thereof. Under this simple and beautiful figure does Jesus Christ describe the admirable developement of his Gospel from its origin to its final consummation.
(4.) We have said that the understanding of parables is facilitated by an ace quaintance with the properties of the things whence the similitudes are derived. Besides the diffusive effects of leaven already adverted to, which sufficiently indicate the certain spread of the Gospel, we may adduce an example from the prophet Jeremiah: who parabolically describing a furious invader (xlix. 19.) says, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan against the habitation of the strong. The propriety of this will appear, when it is known that in antient times the river Jordan was particularly infested with lions, which concealed themselves among the thick reeds upon its banks. Let us then imagine one of these monarchs of the desert asleep among the thickets upon the banks of that river: let us further suppose him to be suddenly awakened by the roaring, or dislodged by the overflowing of the rapid tumultuous torrent, and in his fury rushing into the upland country and we shall perceive the admirable propriety and force of the prophet's allusion.
9. Lastly, although in many of his parables Jesus Christ has delineated the future state of the church, yet he intended that they should convey some important moral precepts, of which we should never lose sight in interpreting parables.
Thus the parable of the sower (Matt. xiii. 3-24. Mark iv. 3-20. and Luke viii. 4-16.), has a moral doctrine, for our Lord himself soon after subjoins the following important caution: Take heed how ye hear. Again, the parable of the tares (Matt. xiii. 24. et seq.) refers to the mixture of the wicked with the good in this world when, therefore, our Lord intimated (in verses 27-29.) that it is not our province to judge those whom he has reserved for his own tribunal; and in the 30th verse added, let both grow together, he evidently implied that, since God tolerates incorrigible sinners, it is the duty of men to bear with them; the propagation of false doctrines is an offence against God, who alone is the judge and punisher them; -man has no right to punish his brethren for their sentiments.2 The parables which are delivered in the same chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel, and also in Luke xiii. 19. 21. delineate the excellence of the religion of Jesus, and are admirably adapted to inspire us with love and admiration for its Divine Author. Further, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matt. xx. 1-17.) besides predicting the future reception of the Gospel, teaches us that no one should despair of the divine mercy so long as he lives, and that God will bestow upon the faithful a larger measure of blessedness than they can venture to expect, and also that we should not be moved with envy, if others enjoy a greater portion of gifts or talents than are bestowed upon ourselves. In fact, as an able expositor3 has remarked, since our Saviour's parables frequently have a double view, this parable seems not only to illustrate the case of the Jews and Gentiles, but also the case of all individuals of every nation, whom God accepts according to their improvement of the opportunities they have enjoyed. In like manner, the parable of the royal nuptials, related in Matt. xxii. verse 1-15. was designed chiefly to show the Jews, that the offers of grace which they rejected would
1" After having descended," says Maundrell, "the outermost bank of Jordan, you go about a furlong upon a level strand, before you come to the immediate bank of the river. This second bank is so beset with bushes and trees, such as tamarisks, willows, oleanders, &c. that you can see no water, till you have made your way through them. In this thicket, antiently, and the same is reported of it at this day, several sorts of wild beasts were wont to harbour themselves; whose being washed out of the covert by the overflowings of the river gave occasion to that allusion, He shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan," &c. Maundrell's Journey from Alleppo to Jerusalem, p. 110. (London, 1810.) Agreeable to this account, Ammianus Marcellinus states, that Innumerable lions wander about among the reeds and copses on the borders of the rivers in Mesopotamia." Lib. xviii. c. 7. (tom. i. p. 177. edit. Bipont.)
2 It is with pleasure the author transcribes the following explicit declaration of the learned Roman Catholic writer, Viser. Having cited the passages above adduced, he says: Facile apparet eos huic precepto nequaquam satisfacere, qui vi, METU, ac MINIS, HOMINES STUDENT A SUA RELIGIONE ABDUCERE. Hermeneutica Sacra Nov. Test. pars iii. p. 131.
3 Gilpin's Exposition of the New Test. vol. i. p. 78. note t.
be made to the Gentiles. But the latter part of it also seems intended to check the presumption of such as pretend to the divine favour without complying with the conditions on which it is promised. It was customary for the bridegroom to prepare vestments for his guests; and the man mentioned in verses 11-13. is said to have intruded without the requisite garment.1
IV. From the preceding remarks it will have been seen that parables are of more frequent occurrence in the New than in the Old Testament and although some hints have been already offered, to account for the adoption of this mode of instruction; yet, as some persons have taken occasion, from the prophecy of Isaiah (vi. 9, 10.), as cited by Matthew (xiii. 13-15.), to insinuate that our Lord spake in parables in order that the perverse Jews might not understand, it may not be irrelevant if we conclude the present strictures on parabolic instruction, with a few remarks on the reasons why it was adopted by our Lord.
1. The practice was familiar to the Jews in common with the other inhabitants of the East, as already stated: and some of our Lord's parables were probably taken from Jewish customs, as the royal nuptials (Matt. xxii. 1—15.), the rich glutton (Luke xvi. 19—31.), and the wise and foolish virgins. (Matt. xxv. 1-13.)3 This method of teaching, therefore, was intelligible to an attentive and inquiring auditory. See Matt. xv. 10. and Mark iv. 13.
2. It was customary for the disciples of the Jewish doctors, when they did not understand the meaning of their parables, to request an explanation from their teachers: in like manner, Christ's hearers might have applied to him, if they had not been indisposed to receive the doctrines he taught, and had they not preferred to be held in error by the Scribes and Pharisees, rather than to receive instruction from his lips.
3. Parabolic instruction was peculiarly well calculated to veil offensive truths or hard sayings, until, in due season, they should be disclosed with greater evidence and lustre, when they were able to hear and to bear them, lest they should revolt at the premature disclosure of the mystery. Compare Mark iv. 33. with John xvi. 12. 25.
4. It was a necessary screen from the malice of his inveterate enemies, the chief priests, Scribes and Pharisees; who would not have failed to take advantage of any express declaration which they might turn to his destruction (John x. 24.); but yet they could not lay hold of the most pointed parables, which, they were clear-sighted enough to perceive, were levelled against themselves. See Matt. xxi. 45. Mark xii. 12. and Luke xx. 19.4
1 The authorities consulted for this section, independently of those already cited incidentally, are Ernesti, Instit. Interp. Nov. Test. p. 112.; Morus, in Ernesti, tom. i. pp. 314-320.; Bauer, Hermeneutica Sacra, pp. 226-229.; Glassii Philologia Sacra, lib. ii. part i. tract 2. sect. 5. canons 3-9. col. 473-492.; Turretin, de Interpret. Script. pp. 214, 215.; Pfeiffer, Herm. Sacr. c. iii. § 13. (Op. tom. ii. pp. 635, 636.); Chladenius, Inst. Exeget. pp. 190, 191.; and J. É. Pfeiffer, Inst. Herm. Sacr. pp. 753-773.
2 See p. 611. supra.
3 Sherigham, in Præf. ad Joma, cited by Whitby on Matt. xiii. 10. Lightfoot, in his Hore Hebraicæ et Talmudice, has pointed out many Jewish sources whence it is probable that Jesus Christ took several of his parables.
4 Dr. Hales's New Analysis of Chronology, vol. ii. p. 773.