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M. No; I should rather think it was a kind of boat or small fishing-vessel, such as was common on the lake, and such as Simon Peter and his brother were using when our Lord called them away to become fishers of men. Perhaps it was even into one of the vessels of this kind which still belonged to some of the disciples.
You must imagine then our Great Prophet sitting in all humility in one of these fishing-vessels, and from thence instructing the crowds that lined the shores of the lake. And now the Bible tells us, "He spake many things unto them in parables." This was a manner of teaching, of which we have found no mention before in the Gospel history, but which our Lord seems to have first used on this occasion. For we find the disciples now expressing great surprise at His speaking to the people in parables, instead of in a plain discourse. But, Edward, can you tell me what a parable means?
E. I hope I can; for you know I have often read our Saviour's beautiful parables, and you took great pains to make me understand what the word meant. I remember one thing you said was, that they were little stories containing a hidden meaning,—hidden at first, I mean, but which could be found out if we searched for it. And then, Mamma, you read to me that verse in the Psalms which says, “I will incline mine ear to the parable, and show my dark speech upon the harp ;" and I recollect your saying that the parable was the "dark speech."
M. So I did; a speech dark at first, but intended, and able if rightly used, to throw light upon the subject it treated of; so as to make it plain to the diligent
hearer, though obscure to the careless; like a dark lamp or lantern, which hides the light from passers by, whilst it illuminates the path of him that carries it. The parables of our Lord were in fact what we should call comparisons, only drawn out to a greater length than our comparisons usually are. We are told indeed that the word parable, in the Greek language, from which it is taken, means a comparison, in which things that are alike are brought together for the sake of explaining one by the other. Take for instance, our Lord's first parable, in which he speaks of a sower going forth to sow, and of the different places in which the seed fell, and the different ways accordingly in which it sprang up.
E. Yes, Mamma, I remember; some did not spring up at all, because it fell on the hard high road, or upon the footpath which crossed the field; so that it was trampled under foot by the people that passed by, or was picked up by the birds.
M. And there was some, you know, which fell on stony ground, growing up rapidly, but soon withering away; other among thorns, choked up by the thorns which grew up with it; other on good soil, deep and prepared to receive it, bringing forth fruit abundantly. Such in substance was our Saviour's first parable: and without adding a single word of religious or moral instruction, He ended by calling upon His hearers to give it their utmost attention; saying, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
E. And yet, Mamma, I do not wonder that the disciples should have come to our Lord, as I remember they did, to ask Him to explain this parable to them. For I am sure, if you had told me such a story, I should not have been able to make out the meaning
of it, even if I had listened, as I sometimes do, with all my mind.
M. No, we are not surprised that the disciples should have inquired the meaning, nor that they should have come to our Lord, saying, "Why speakest thou unto them in parables ?" for what could the crowd on the shore have made of such a narrative? To them it could be nothing but a "dark speech :" it was so even to the disciples, until Christ explained it to them and it would have been hard and difficult to us still, if in the New Testament the explanation were not to be found as well as the Parable.
E. But, dear Mamma, I cannot understand why our Lord should speak to the people in Parables. If any one else had done so, I should have thought it was just to vex and tantalize them. But I am sure He was too kind to act so; I am sure He wished to teach, and not to disappoint them.
M. I think we see, in our Saviour's answer to His disciples when they asked Him this question, part of His reason for acting thus. He says, "Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath." By which answer we may understand, that the sacred and precious truths of the Gospel were not to be plain and easy to the careless multitude, who came to hear from mere curiosity or amusement, without any real desire for heavenly knowledge. These should be sent away empty and unsatisfied; they had heard indeed the words of Christ, but those words had fallen on their
ears like a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, the noise of which would pass away in a little time and be forgotten. But the sincere and earnest inquiries, such as the disciples of Christ, who really loved the truth, and earnestly desired to understand and obey it, they should be enabled not only to know the holy truths of God's word, but to believe and understand them and to feel the happy effects of them upon their own hearts. For whoever makes a good use of the grace bestowed upon him, shall receive that grace more and more abundantly; whilst he who neglects or perverts it, from him shall be taken away even that which he once possessed. We learn also from the words that follow, that our Lord's speaking in parables, was an awful judgment or punishment to those Pharisees who had been so long attending upon his preaching, not with simple and humble minds to receive instruction from it, but merely that they might find fault with it, and catch our Lord in His words. They had had the blessings of salvation held out to them, but had turned away; they had seen with their eyes the miracles of Christ, and heard with their ears all His gracious sayings; but so far from being convinced by them, they had wickedly ascribed those works to Satan, and those words to a madman. The awful consequence was this; the opportunity they had despised should now be taken away; if they chose to follow Christ still, and hear His words, they should be words that they could not understand. A dreadful dulness should from henceforth fall upon their minds, whilst truth was on every side of them. The light which should shine about them, and guide thousands to eternal life, should be deep darkness to them;-an awful doom,
but such as they had forced the compassionate Saviour to inflict upon them. How deep must have been the guilt which could have drawn from His lips such words as these ; words which make us shudder as we read them: "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 Esaias, 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 dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them."
Thus you see, that the plan of teaching by parables was adopted in the first place, as a punishment to those who had heard the preaching of Christ in such a temper of mind as to make it the means of their own destruction. But even in the midst of wrath the Lord always remembers mercy. No sooner had He pronounced these awful words, than He turns to His disciples and says, "But, blessed be your eyes for they see; and your ears for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." And then He immediately began to explain to them, in the simplest manner, the parable of the sower; for our gracious Redeemer was willing to teach all who were willing to learn.
And here we may remark that, to the sincere learner, nothing can be more instructive than a parable. Its