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once, the proof of his learning, and the difficulty of his procuring it by any earthly means. There is also, if it may be said so, a taste and simplicity in his mode of producing it, inconsistent with acquired information, and superior to mere worldly pedantry. There is a readiness in all his words which bears the stamp of divinity, and a variety in them highly indicative of inspiration. They seem never to be used except when needed; but when the necessity has occurred, they are never wanting; and the attentive reader of the Gospels will always be ready to join “ in the astonishment of the people at his doctrine,” and in the spontaneous exclamation of the officers of the pharisees, “never man spake like this man !."
Our present intention is to confirm the truth of these observations, by a reference to the parables of our blessed Saviour. We have already shewn you, in our last discourse, that in the early part of his ministry, he took occasion to preach his doctrines to an assembled multitude of people, and, from a Mount, to address them in a comprehensive and perspicuous discourse, in which he gave them a summary of his religion, and a sweeping and forcible explanation of the Law and of the Prophets. In another part of the Gospels, we read that he again took occasion, at a different period, to repeat the same discourse, in nearly the same words, when surrounded by them, on a plain' At a still later period he found himself again in a convenient situation for teaching. As he sat by the sea-side, great multitudes came unto him. A ship was, by chance, near, into which he entered and sat, and the whole multitude stood on the shore. The people, as formerly, were disposed to hear, and he was willing to gratify them; but this time he thought fit to vary his mode, and to give his instructions under a form which might, at the same time, convey the most important lessons, and also please the imaginations of his hearers:
1 John vii. 46.
" he spake many things unto them in parables.”
No reader of the Scripture, surely, can need to be informed what is the meaning of a parable; for the use which is made of it elsewhere, as well as in the Gospels, is sufficiently explanatory of it. The literal meaning of the word is “a comparison;" and the tendency of the parable, is to prescribe a certain line of conduct, or to illustrate real events, by means of fictitious stories; and thus to convey, in a manner at once agreeable and impressive, lessons either of instruction or of reproof. They may not improperly be called “Scripture fables.” Narrations of this sort were great favourites, and were much used among eastern nations, as containing in them a species of amusement, they were, therefore, calculated to be acceptable to the Jews, who were not unaccustomed to them.
Indeed, although the number and variety which our Saviour put forth, exceeded any thing which had ever been done or heard of before, yet was not he either the first to make use of the parable, nor are his the only ones worth observing. The Old Testament contains several very beautiful and very remarkable parables. The two most prominent are Jotham's fable of the bramble which the trees chose for their king, in the Book of Judges'; and that of the poor man's lamb, by means of which Nathan reproved and brought to a sense of shame, the sinning, but at length, equally penitent David ? ; and this last has this particular merit, inasmuch as perhaps it was the only way by which the monarch could have, effectually, and at the same time, courteously, have been brought to a due sense of his situation, and an acknowledgment of his sin. But, besides these, the Psalms, as well as the prophets, are filled with these beautiful stories. What can be more exact than that comparison in the 80th Psalm, in which the Psalmist, under the figure of a vine, records the removal out of Egypt, the original prosperity, and, afterwards, the fall of the Children of Judges ix. 8.
Israel. Or the very similar one in the prophecy of Isaiah', in which the men of Judah, represented by a vineyard, are reproved, because that when their planter looked that they should bring forth grapes, they brought forth wild grapes. There are many other comparisons of this sort in the Old Testament, which sufficiently shew the customs of the people, and prove that our Lord, in making use of this mode of instruction, adopted that which was proper both to be agreeable to the imaginations of his hearers, as well as to promote the purpose for which he intended it.
But, besides this, our Saviour had other motives for his continual use of the parable.
First, in doing so he fulfilled a prediction of the prophet Isaiah, as he himself has told us, who had foretold that the people “ should see without perceiving, and hear without understanding ?;" by
1 Isa, v. I.
2 Isa. yi. 9.