We have considered as yet only the commoner and briefer forms of figurative language in the New Testament writings— those which consist of single expressions, or admit of being compressed into one sentence. But a very considerable and important part of our Lord’s discourses exhibits the use of figurative representations of a much more extended and diversified kind. We refer to the parables, which, both on account of their intrinsic importance, and the peculiarities connected with such a mode of instruction, demand a separate treatment.
It is marked by the Evangelists as a sort of era in our Lord’s ministry, when He began to teach in parables. Each of the Synoptic Evangelists takes notice of it, and connects it with specific reasons. The period itself is not very definitely indicated; but it must have fallen, if not actually within the last year of His ministry, at least not far from its commencement; and if not absolutely the whole, certainly by much the greater number of His parables must be ascribed to the last year.
At the same time, the formal employment of parabolic teaching was not entirely new. Christ’s manner of teaching from the outset partook largely of figure; and some even of His earlier recorded utterances were parables of a shorter kind; for, while conveying a spiritual lesson, they bore a distinct and intelligible meaning also in the natural sense. Of this description are some parts of the Sermon on the Mount; for example, Matt. 5:25,
“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.”
Here human and earthly relations alone are directly mentioned, though it is plain, from the connection in which they stand, and the whole tenor of the discourse, that they are employed merely as the cover of a higher instruction.
Not materially different are other things in the same discourse, and especially the concluding verses, in which the two classes of hearers— the fruitful and fruitless—are represented under the similitude of two builders, the one of whom erected his house on the sand, and the other on the solid rock. And in the interval between the delivery of the sermon on the Mount, and the commencement of the more regular system of parabolic instruction, we find on record a few instances of similitude, which are always ranked with the parables—those, namely, of the old garment and the new patch, of the new wine and the old bottles (Matt. 9:16, 17) and of the creditor and the two debtors in the house of Simon (Luke 7:41, 42). So that the parabolic mode of instruction, to a certain extent, pervaded the ministry of Jesus; it was not altogether limited to any one period; only, at a particular stage, somewhere between the middle and the close, He commenced a more regular, frequent, and systematic use of the parabolic style. And to this later period it is, that the parables distinctively so called, belong.
Why Did Jesus Use Parables?
In regard, first of all, to the reasons which may have led our Lord to adopt this mode of instruction, and to resort to it more especially in the concluding stages of His ministerial career, a variety of considerations may be named as having each had a certain share in the result..
In the first place, a foundation is laid for it in the nature of things,
“in the harmony that exists, and that is unconsciously felt by all men between the natural and spiritual worlds, so that analogies from the first are felt to be something more than illustrations, happily, but not arbitrarily chosen.” source
Something more—because they are the signs and witnesses of that happy adjustment, which God has established between the external and internal worlds, between matter and mind, time and eternity; according to which the things that are seen are in many respects the image of those which are not seen, and nature-processes are at once designed and fitted to be emblems of the operations of grace.
In saying this, we do not need with some, among others with Dr. Trench, to go to the extreme of holding, that everything in nature has been pre-ordained expressly to shadow forth and represent Divine mysteries;—to hold, for example, that “all the circumstances of our natural birth had been pre-ordained to bear the burden of the great mystery of our spiritual birth,” (see here) or that the title of King, as applied to Christ, is not taken from the kings of the earth, but “rather that He has lent His title to them.” We designate this an extreme, because it is an inverting of the natural order of things as they present themselves to our minds, and is also at variance with the whole current of Scriptural representation on the subject. There the natural ever precedes the spiritual, and the supernatural bases itself on the natural; so that creation does not anticipate redemption, but redemption presupposes creation—presupposes it as in itself good and right; and, in like manner, regeneration presupposes generation, and elevates it to a higher sphere. All we have to affirm and hold is, that the author of the spiritual kingdom (as Tholuck, on John 15 has very correctly and fitly expressed it) “is also the author of the natural kingdom, and both kingdoms develop themselves after the same laws. For this reason, the similitudes which the Redeemer drew from the kingdom of nature, are not mere similitudes, which serve the purpose of illustration, but are internal analogies; and nature is a witness for the kingdom of God. Hence was it long since announced as a principle, that ‘whatever exists in the earthly, is found also in the heavenly kingdom.’ Were it not so, those similitudes would not possess that power of conviction, which they carry to every unsophisticated mind.”
On this ground alone, then, we have a valid ground for the employment by our Lord of the parabolic method of instruction. He thereby drew the attention of His followers in every age to the profound and intimate connection that subsists between the realms of nature and of grace, and taught them to look through the one to the other. It was the more important that He should do this, as the kingdom He came to introduce stood in so many respects opposed to the world as it existed in His time, through the false views, grovelling superstitions, and horrid crimes under which it groaned. It had become, so to speak, a worn-out world,—corrupt nature had spent apparently its last efforts on it in vain; and it seemed as if there was little more to be learned from it, or to be done for it. But our Lord, while mainly intent upon unfolding new views of the mind and purposes of Heaven, at the same time directed a new look into the secrets and principles of nature. By means
especially of His inimitable parables, He showed, that when nature was consulted aright, it spoke one language with the Spirit of God; and that the more thoroughly it is understood, the more complete and varied will be found the harmony which subsists between the principles of its constitution and those of Christ’s spiritual kingdom..
A second reason very naturally suggests itself for this method of instruction, in the near assimilation, into which it brings a large portion of the teaching of Jesus with the acted lessons of His life, and with sacred history in general. That so much of the revelation of God to men consists of the facts of history, especially of biographical facts connected with the lives of God’s saints, has ever been regarded by wise and thoughtful men as a striking proof of its adaptation to our natures, which so much more readily imbibe clear and lasting impressions in this way, than by set and formal instructions.
And not only so, but by this means they can be taught much more in a brief compass than it is possible otherwise to impart to them. For, in a life, especially in such lives as are recorded in the Word of God, there is a great variety and fullness of instruction, admitting of a manifold applicability to the diversified fortunes and conditions of men. There is this, preeminently, in the life of Jesus, with its wondrous details of doing and suffering, and the unfathomable depths of wisdom and love, which it was ever exhibiting—alike incomparable in itself, and in the artless, engaging manner, in which it is presented to our view by the Evangelists.
The parables of Jesus, from the historical element in them, and the attractive form in which it appears, possess much of the same excellence. They are based, if not on what has actually occurred in the world of realities, at least on what may have occurred there, and often in effect has done so. Ideal histories they are, yet derived as to all their leading features from the actual, and these grouped together, and portrayed with the simplicity of nature itself.
They are hence, in a brief compass, copious treasures of Divine wisdom, from which lessons, new and old, may be continually drawn. And however much we may strive to exhibit the several aspects of the Divine kingdom, we shall still find, that we can present nothing under any of them so complete, as is contained in some one of the parables, which is devoted to its illustration..
A third reason for our Lord’s teaching in parables may be found in the opportunity it afforded of presenting more truth to the minds of His disciples than, from their continued dullness and carnality of spirit, could otherwise have been communicated to them. Steeped in prejudice, and, even when holding the truth in substance, mingling with it such partial, or mistaken apprehensions, they could with difficulty be got to receive with intelligence some of Christ’s plainest revelations; and, at last, He was obliged to stay His hand in respect to the more direct and open communications of his mind, as He found the disciples were not able to bear, or to profit by it. But, by teaching in parables, and presenting the concerns of His kingdom under the image of familiar objects and earthly relations, He laid the ground-work of a most comprehensive and varied instruction. Many aspects of the kingdom were thus unfolded to them in a form they could easily grasp and distinctly comprehend—though, for the time, all remained, like the symbols of the Old Testament worship, very much as a dark and unintelligible cipher [code] to their view. That cipher, however, became lighted up with meaning when the personal work of Christ was finished, and the Spirit descended with power to make application of its blessings, and the minds of the disciples were enabled to grasp the higher as well as the lower scheme of doctrine exhibited in the representation. Through the earthly form they could now descry [see] the spiritual reality; and the advantage they derived from the types, when rightly understood, they also derived, and in a still higher degree, from the parables..
Once more, another reason, and, indeed, the one that is most distinctly announced in the Gospels, for our Lord teaching so much in the latter part of His ministry in parable, was the judicial treatment involved in it—the practical rebuke it administered to the people generally, on account of their failure to receive the truth when presented in its simple and more direct form.
After the parable of the sower and some others had been delivered, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?” And the answer pointed chiefly to the measure of darkness connected with them:
“Unto you it is given (said He) to know the mysteries of the kingdom: 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 which he hath. Therefore”
He added, with reference to the people, who belonged to the latter class, the persons who had not, as the disciples did-to the former
“Therefore speak I to them in parables; because they seeing, see not; hearing, they hear not, neither understand.”
The import of the statement is, that the disciples, having to a certain extent used the privilege they possessed—having improved the talents committed to them—were to be entrusted with more; while the body of the people, having failed to make a similar use of their opportunities—remaining destitute of Divine knowledge, notwithstanding all that had been taught them—were to have their means of knowing abridged, were to be placed under a more indirect and veiled method of instruction. This mode of dealing was in perfect accordance with the whole nature and tendency of the work of Christ in its relation to the hearts of men,—which always carried along with it two ends, the one displaying the severity, and the other the goodness of God. From the first He was “set for the fall,” as well as “the rising again,” of many in Israel—for the enlightenment and salvation first, but, if that failed, then for the growing hardness and aggravated guilt of the people.
In the parable, viewed as a mode of instruction, there was necessarily a veiling of the truth for such as neither sought, nor obtained through private explanations, the key to its spiritual bearing. And in that veiling there was an act of judgment for previous indifference and contrariety to the manifestation of the truth. Because the people had not received it in love, when more openly presented to them, it now became wrapped in an obscurer guise, and was placed at a greater distance from their view. Even this, had it been rightly viewed, would have wrought beneficially upon their minds. For, had they not willfully blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, they would have seen in such a darkening of the Divine counsel something fitted to rouse and startle them; it would have fallen on their ear as the warning-note of coming retribution; and, perceiving that the Lord was showing Himself froward to the froward [obstinate, contrary], they would have fled to the arms of mercy before severer judgment overtook them. This, undoubtedly, was what our Lord designed as the effect that should have been produced upon them by the change He adopted in His manner of teaching. And in certain cases it may have done so; but, with the greater part, the evil only proceeded from one stage to another, and, before leaving for the last time the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, and His discourses delivered, He uttered against them those memorable woes which announced their approaching doom..
Such appear to have been the chief considerations which induced our Lord in the later period of His ministry, to use so commonly the parabolic mode of instruction. It is not so properly an additional reason, as a particular mode of representing those that have been specified, when the Evangelist Matthew says of Christ’s speaking to the people in parables,
“…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
What is here regarded as a prophecy, is a somewhat general declaration respecting the form of utterances common to the more special messengers of Heaven. With certain characteristic differences, there still was something proper to them all in this respect, more particularly in those communications which had a prospective reference to the kingdom of God; there was a certain amount of figurative and analogical discourse required to their fulfilling aright their prophetic office. And it was unavoidable, that the greatest Messenger and Prophet of all should also exhibit this mark of the prophetic calling. It behooved to appear in some form; but the specific form it actually assumed in his hands was determined by the several considerations already mentioned. So that the allusion of the Evangelist to the passage in the forty-ninth Psalm, does not indicate anything new or different upon the subject, but is comprehensive of all the considerations, which actually weighed with our Lord, and induced Him to adopt the parabolic style..
How to Interpret the Parables
We proceed now to the second leading point of inquiry respecting the parables of Jesus, viz., the proper mode of interpreting and handling them. We are not left here entirely to our own resources; for, on two occasions, very near each other, the disciples asked our Lord for an explanation of the parables He had delivered, and we have, in consequence, His interpretation of two of them. We are, doubtless, entitled to regard these examples of Divine exposition as specimens of the kind of exposition generally, that should be employed upon the parables, and the main features in them should be steadily kept in view by all interpreters..
First: the Literal Meaning
The first thing, however, that requires to be attended to is one not noticed in our Lord’s explanations, but taken for granted there as perfectly understood, viz. the correct reading of the parabolical representation itself, which forms the ground and cover of the spiritual instruction. We must obtain a clear understanding, and be able to give an accurate exposition of the meaning of the words, and the natural or historical allusions which they may contain. And the image or delineation, as a whole, in its merely natural aspect and relations, should be set forth in its proper fullness and simplicity, preparatory to our drawing from it the instruction it is fitted to convey.
For the most part, this is not difficult— if only a moderate amount of scholarship is possessed, and such a cast of mind as is capable of taking up a fair impression, and giving forth a distinct representation of what is narrated:—not difficult, because usually the language in these portions of Scripture is remarkable for simplicity, and the parabolic narratives relate to the more familiar objects in nature and history. In a few cases only is some difficulty experienced..
As an example of one in the language, we may point to the parable of the wheat and the tares—as it is commonly termed. The difficulty lies here in determining exactly what is meant by ζιζανια, the seed which the enemy scattered among the wheat, and which, it appears, did not attract any notice or excite any uneasiness, till the full blade had been put forth, and the ear had been formed. The tares, the ancient vicia, by which our translators have rendered the word, plainly do not altogether accord with the description; both because they are so different in form and appearance from wheat, that they should be detected the moment they rose above ground, and also because they are not of a noxious nature, but are grown for purposes of nourishment. Our Lord, there can be little doubt, referred to some weed with which His hearers were familiarly acquainted, and which was wont to be found in the cornfields of Syria. The term ζιζανια is, therefore, in all probability a Syrian word; and, accordingly, it never occurs in any Greek or Latin author, except in the writings of the Fathers, where they refer to this parable. They explained it differently, and if we except Jerome, none of them quite correctly. But there is a plant, which the Rabbins call zunim, and the Arabs of the present day zulzan (neither of them very far from the zizania of Scripture,) which abounds in the cornfields of Syria—a plant, which is at first very like wheat in appearance, which belongs to the same family, and which, when analyzed, contains nearly the same ingredients, yet so different in its effects upon the human frame, that when the seeds remain mixed with the wheat, the flour thus produced always occasions dizziness and other injurious effects. There can be little doubt, that this is really the plant referred to.
The only question (but one that can scarcely be said to affect the exposition of the parable) is, whether it is a distinct plant, or a sort of degenerate wheat—“afterwheat” as it is sometimes called. The Rabbinical doctors held it to be the latter: they said, as quoted by Lightfoot, “Wheat and zunim are not seeds of different kinds,” but “zunim is a kind of wheat, which is changed in the earth, both as to its form and as to its nature.” The ancient scholiast, too, writes on Virgil’s infelix lolium, “Triticum et hordeum in lolium mutantur.” This, certainly, may be reckoned doubtful; for the Rabbis and scholiasts were no great naturalists; and it is more common now to regard the zizanion as a separate plant, the bearded darnel, lolium temulen turn, of naturalists.
At all events, this plant, and not our tares, is what must be understood by the term in the parable—although it would be unwise now to substitute the one term for the other in our Bibles. In the figurative representation of the parable, apart from the language in which it is expressed, there is seldom any difficulty. Only, it is necessary to exercise caution, so as not to extend the representation too far—carry it beyond the bounds within which it was intended to move. Thus, in the parable of the unjust steward, who is set up as a representative in the worldly sphere, of a selfish and carnal wisdom, choosing skillfully its means for the accomplishment of a desired end, we must take care to confine it to that one point, and abstain from giving it a more general direction. There is a higher wisdom even in the world than what is there exhibited, a wisdom that extends to the choice of a proper end, as well as to the employment of proper means:—but this is not brought into view in the representation of the parable..
Second: the Central Point
The next thing to be attended to in the interpretation of the parables, is the main theme or leading idea, which they are severally intended to illustrate. For, there always is what may be so characterized—some special aspect of the Divine kingdom, or some particular line of duty to be followed, or of danger to be shunned, which the parable aims at exhibiting, and to which all its imagery is subservient. This, as Lisco has justly observed,
is the center and kernel of the parable, and till it has been discovered and accurately determined, we need not occupy ourselves with the individual parts; since these can only be seen in their true light, when contemplated from the proper center. We may compare…
…the whole parabolical representation to a circle, the center of which is the Divine truth or doctrine, and the radii are the several figurative traits in the narrative. So long as we do not stand in the center, neither does the circle appear in an entirely round form, nor do the radii seem in their proper order, as all tending to the center, and in beautiful uniformity:—this is done, when the eye surveys everything from the center. So is it precisely in the parable. If we have brought clearly and distinctly out its central point, its principal idea, then also the relative position and right meaning of its several parts become manifest, and we shall only dwell upon these in so far as the main theme can thereby be rendered more distinct.
In order to arrive correctly at this main theme, beside an exact and careful examination of the parable itself, the chief help is to be sought in the connection; and if this is closely considered, and the light it furnishes applied to the illustration of the subject, we shall rarely, if ever, be left in doubt as to the principal idea or doctrine which it was designed to unfold.
A few of the earlier parables, all those recorded in chapter 13 of Matthew, and which were delivered about the same time, having been uttered one after another, without anything intervening between them in speech or action, can consequently derive no benefit from the immediate context. But with that exception, all the parables in the Synoptic evangelists are connected with occasions of an historical kind, very often also are preceded by a direct address; and then the principle couched in the address, or which the historical occasion served to bring out, is resumed, and for all times thrown into the form of an attractive and striking parable..
The Rich Fool
Possibly, the parable may carry the instruction somewhat farther than was done by what immediately preceded, but it will be found to be only in the same line. Thus the beautiful and impressive parable of the rich fool, recorded in chapter 12 of Luke, was occasioned by a person rudely interrupting Jesus, and requesting his interference with that person’s brother, in order to obtain a division of the inheritance. Our Lord first repelled the intrusion by asking, “Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?” and then delivered to His followers the appropriate counsel, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Now, the parable that follows is simply an embodiment of this great lesson, which is thrown into the parabolic form, to clothe it with life-like freshness, and give it a more impressive and touching influence on the heart..
Lost Sheep; Lost Money; Prodigal Son
In like manner, the three parables in Luke 15—those of the lost sheep, the lost piece of money, and the prodigal son—all took their rise in the taunt thrown out by the Pharisees against Christ, that He received sinners and ate with them; and they each unfold, under so many different, yet closely related aspects, the grounds of the procedure, out of which the taunt originated; they explain and justify, on the common principles and feelings of humanity, the merciful and considerate treatment, which the adversaries vilified..
The Laborers In The Vineyard
These examples are comparatively simple; but there are others, in which the proper result is not so easily arrived at. It is, however, to be sought in the same way; the connection, when closely surveyed, will generally be found the best help to ascertain the principal idea in the parable. In the case which, probably, presents the greatest difficulty in this respect —that of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matt 21—we shall not search in vain if we look in the direction now indicated. By referring to the close of Matt 20, we find the parable was delivered for the purpose of embodying and illustrating a great principle, which Peter’s self-complacent exhibition of the sacrifices he and the other apostles had made for Christ’s sake, had elicited from the Savior, “that many who were first should be last, and the last first.” The main theme of the parable, which is summed up with the reiteration, in a somewhat stronger form, of this practical saying, is comprised in the twofold truth therein contained. It teaches that the one class, the outwardly first, represented by the early called laborers, were unfit for the kingdom, because of the sense of merit, grounded on their early and long-continued services, rendering them indisposed to the simple reception of the gifts of grace, on which the Divine kingdom is founded. The other class, the outwardly last, represented by those who went into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, and who had nothing almost of their own on which to ground any claim to blessing—these, the parable teaches, are the proper subjects of the kingdom, having that deep spirit of humility, which disposes them to receive without a murmur whatever the Divine householder might give.
It is needless to multiply examples further. But it will be perceived, from what has been already stated, that the parable should be viewed in each case as one whole. If it is pervaded by some great idea, or specific lesson, it should be viewed and treated with a reference to this; and it cannot but suffer if it is broken up into a variety of separate parts, and each handled independently of the others. At the same time, individual traits may, on certain occasions, be selected as the basis of a discourse, if only care is taken to exhibit the connection in which it stands with the unity of the entire representation, and a view is given of it properly consistent with the place belonging to it in that connection..
Third: the non-Central Points
There is still another point, which requires consideration in the treatment of parables, but on which it is scarcely possible to lay down a very explicit direction. We refer to the regard that should be paid to the individual traits—how far they should, or should not, be looked upon as having a separate significance. It is here more especially that our Lord’s interpretation of the two parables formerly noticed is fitted to yield an important service. From this we see, that every specific feature in the earthly type has its correspondence in the higher line of things it represents. Nothing, on the one hand, appears merely for ornament; while, on the other, nothing is wiredrawn, or made to bear a meaning that seems too much for it. It may, doubtless, be regarded as one of the indications of comparative perfection belonging to the parables of our Lord, that they admit of such a close and particular application; for the more numerous the points of agreement in such a case, the more perfect must be deemed the form of the discourse.
In connection with this, however, the distinctive nature of the parable should be borne in mind, which is not fitted for unfolding the particular facts or the more specific doctrines of the kingdom of Christ, as its more fundamental laws and broader features. In their nature, parables are a species of allegory, or symbol; and whatever variety or depth of meaning this is capable of embodying, it still must relate more to the great lines of truth and duty, than to the minuter [smaller] details of either. If we should, therefore, go to the interpretation of them in a spirit of partisanship, eager to find support for some particular dogma we may be anxious to uphold, the result is sure to be an unnatural wresting of certain portions of the parable. And in all ages such has too frequently been the case in the treatment that has been given to this species of discourse..
Manicheans and the Tares
In early times we find many indications of it. For example, the Manicheans sought support for their independent principle of evil, the essentially divine and creative power of the wicked one, in the representation given in the parable of the tares, respecting the sowing of the bad seed in the field— as if the existence of the bad were something altogether new, and not rather the depravation of what existed before. It is not, as Augustine contended, and many others of later times, that something is brought into being apart from the creation of God, or accomplishing what God alone could effect. The zizania [tares] were of God, as well as the wheat, only in the wrong place, and in that place a depravation—a travestying [distorting] of the proper order and harmony of God’s productions—an evil, as every work of Satan is..
Libertines and the Tares
Nor can we regard it as anything but another, and, in principle, similar misinterpretation of the same parable, when many in modern times find in the sowing of the zizania, and the refusal of the householder to have them plucked up, an argument for the utter relaxation of discipline in the Christian Church. They thus place it in antagonism to the instruction contained in other portions of the New Testament; for example, the Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which the strictest charges are given to maintain a watchful discipline, and the severest rebukes and threatenings are uttered on account of its neglect.
The proper application of that part of the parable has respect only to such admixtures as spring up unperceived—those which the most vigilant oversight cannot prevent, or which, when they appear, are not so flagrantly offensive to Christian sense and purity, that they may at once be proceeded against as utterly opposed to the character of a Christian Church. It is only of such things that the representation can justly be understood, as of them only could it be said, that the judicial treatment of them by human instrumentality might involve the exclusion also of some of the true children from the state and privileges of grace. Comparing this parable with that of the sower, what is said in the one of the tares, nearly corresponds to what is said in the other of the third class of hearers—those in whom the cares of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches, spring up and choke the word. Both alike seem to include such as might be within the pale of the Christian Church, though becoming by degrees alien to it in spirit and character, yet still preserving so much of the form of godliness, that no merely human eye has sufficient discernment to draw the line of demarcation [separation] between them and others, nor could any human hand administer the proper discipline, without sometimes, at least, confounding together the children of God and the children of Satan..
The Necessity of an Atonement
A misuse, similar to those already noticed, has also frequently been made of the representation given in the parable of the prodigal son, of the reception which that son met with on his return to the father. No mention is there made of anything being necessary to secure the father’s reconciliation, or provide for the son access to the bosom of his love, excepting the son’s own penitent frame of mind, and actual return; and hence, it is argued, in the higher sphere of things represented by these, there can also be no need for more—an atonement in the ordinary sense cannot be required.
But here the cases are not parallel—the representation, by this use of it, is stretched beyond the proper line; since it is not as a father, but as a righteous governor, that God requires an atonement for the guilty; and to press a feature of this kind in an exclusive sense, is simply to place it in antagonism to other parts of Scripture. This parable, like all the others, was intended to represent Divine things under the image of the human, only in so far as the one could present a parallel to the other. In the case of the earthly parent and child, there was no room for t n atonement as the basis of reconciliation; the whole that could, with any propriety, be exhibited, was the play of feeling from the one side to the other, with the results to which it led—everything of a more fundamental kind, or connected with other aspects and relations of the subject, being left, for the present, out of view..
Fourth: Prophetic Aspect of Parables
Reference may still further be made in this connection to the treatment often given to the parables in a prophetical respect. Undoubtedly, they do generally contain a prophetical element, referring as well to the future progress and results of Messiah’s kingdom, as to its existing character and condition. But they commonly do so under some particular aspect, one parabolical representation being chosen to give prominence to one feature, that was going to be developed, and another to another. Care, therefore, should be taken to keep in view the partial nature of each representation; otherwise particular traits will have undue significance attached to them, and the instruction conveyed by one parable will be brought into conflict with that of another.
Thus, the parable of the tares and wheat presents the future aspect of the kingdom (as to the intermingling of the evil with the good) as a state of things that should, more or less, continue to the end of time;—while the parable of the leaven hid in meal represents the Divine element in the kingdom working on till the whole was pervaded by it. They are two different aspects, but perfectly consistent, if the parts in which they differ are not unduly pressed; but if otherwise, then the apparent continuance of evil in the one case, and its gradual extinction in the other, must become, not the complements, but the antitheses of each other. The Divine leaven cannot spread onwards till all is leavened, without, at the same time, causing the tares of error and corruption to disappear. But that there shall still, till the time of the end, be a certain admixture of the evil with the good, can readily be supposed; while, on the whole, the good continues to grow and spread, and becomes ultimately triumphant.
These hints, perhaps, may suffice. It is impossible, on such a subject, to lay down precise and definite rules; and the exact line in each case can only be ascertained by careful consideration, a well-exercised judgment, and a spiritual sense, derived from a living acquaintance with the truths of the gospel, and close attention to the manner in which they are revealed in Scripture.