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§ 66. Its Results dependent upon the Spirit of the Hearers.
But the attainment of this end depended upon the susceptibility of the hearers. So far as they hungered for true spiritual food, so far as the parable stimulated them to deeper thought, and so far only, it revealed new riches. Those with whom this was really the case were accustomed to wait until the throng had left their Master, or, gathering round him in a narrow circle, in some retired spot, to seek clearer light on points which the parable had left obscure. The scene described in Mark, iv., 10, shows us that others besides the twelve apostles were named among those who remained behind to ask him questions after the crowd had dispersed. Not only did such questions afford the Saviour an opportunity of imparting more thorough instruction, but those who felt constrained to offer them were thereby drawn into closer fellowship with him. He became better acquainted with the souls that were longing for salvation.
The greater number, however, in their stupidity, did not trouble themselves to penetrate the shell in order to reach the kernel. Yet they must at least have perceived that they had understood nothing; they could not learn separate phrases from Christ (as they might from other religious teachers) and think they comprehended them, while they did not. And so, in proportion to the susceptibility of his hearers, the parables of Christ revealed sacred things to some and veiled them from others, who were destined, through their own fault, to remain in darkness. The pearls, as he himself said, were not to be cast before swine. Thus, like those “hard sayings”156156 John, vi., 60. which were to some the “words of Life,” and to others an insupportable “offence,” the parables served to sift and purge the throng of Christ’s hearers.
A single example will bring this vividly before us. On a certain occasion, when Christ had pronounced a parable, and the multitude had departed, the earnest seekers after truth gathered about him to ask its interpretation.157157 Luke, viii., 10; Mark, iv., 11. He expressed his gratification at their eagerness to 104learn the true sense of his words, and said: “Unto you it is given158158 I. e., they followed the inward “ drawing of God (John, vi., 44, 45), and thence became susceptible of Divine impressions. to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to others in parables [without the explanations that are given to susceptible minds], that they may see with their eyes, and yet not see; that they may hear with their ears, and yet not hear.” There is here expressed a moral necessity, a judgment of God, that those who were destitute of the right will (on which all depends, and without which the Divine “drawing” is in vain), could understand nothing of the things of the Lord which they saw and heard. So long as they remained as they were, the whole life of Christ, according to the same general law, remained to them an inexplicable parable.159159 According to Mark and Luke, the disciples asked of Christ the meaning of the parable; according to Matthew (xiii., 10), they inquired why he spoke to the multitude in parables. In Luke there is only an allusion to Isai., vi., 9; in Matthew the passage is cited in full. In both respects the statement in Mark and Luke seems to be the more simple and original. The apostles had more reason to ask the meaning of the parables than to find out Christ’s motive for uttering them; yet as Christ, in reply, did state that motive, it was perhaps implied in the question. The full quotation of the passage in Isaiah was a natural change, and accorded with Matthew’s habit. The connexion is well preserved in Matthew, and the difference between his statement and the others is merely formal; nor is there the slightest ground to suppose that the author of Matthew simply worked out Mark’s account or some other which lay before him. It goes on naturally thus: in answer to the question why he spoke to the multitude in parables, Christ replied (v. 11), that it was not given to them, as to the disciples, to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; the reason, founded in their moral dispositions, is stated in v. 12; and then, in v. 13, the Divine sentence, that “on account of their stupidity he spoke to them only in parables.” There is nothing inconsistent here, nor is any arbitrary procedure attributed to Christ; for, in fact, the parables served to veil as well as to reveal; and they did the one or the other, according to the moral disposition of those that heard them. It is worthy of remark, that “the others,” with whom Luke contrasts the inquiring disciples, are styled by Mark (iv., 11) “those that are without.” The simplest way to interpret this phrase is to apply it to those who did not enter to ask a solution of what they had not understood; it may mean those who were outside of the narrower fellowship around Christ; but in either sense the result is the same.160160 Whatever may have been the original expression of Christ in this passage, the fact that Luke speaks of “mysteries” in the plural, and Mark of “mystery” in the singular, contributes, at any rate, to its elucidation. We have here another proof that the germs of Paul’s teaching are to be found in the discourses of Christ: this passage contains Paul’s whole doctrine of tire relation of the natural mind to the knowledge of Divine things; e. g., 1 Cor.. ii. 14.
“The mystery,” in the passage above quoted, is something hidden from men of worldly minds; incomprehensible to them, and to all who are excluded, by their spirit and disposition, from the kingdom of God. And this is the case with all truths that relate to that kingdom, however simple and clear they may seem to those whose inner life has made them at home in it.
After Christ had explained the parable to his disciples, he took occasion, 105from this particular case, to impress upon them the general lesson that every thing depended on the spirit in which they received his words. He came not (he told them) to hide his light, but to enlighten the darkness of men. It was his calling to be the Light of the world (Mark, iv., 21). (He spoke in order to reveal the truth, not to hide it.) The truth which he had obscurely intimated was to unfold itself for the instruction of all mankind (v. 22; cf. John, xvi., 25). Yet the organs who were destined to unfold it must have “hearing ears” (v. 23). And he proceeds (v. 24), “Take heed, therefore, what ye hear (be not like the stupid multitude, who perceive only the outward word); and unto you that hear shall more be given (my revelations to you will increase in proportion to the susceptibility with which you appropriate the truths which I have intimated).” And he concludes with the general law,161161 Mark, iv., 25; Luke, viii., 18; Matt., xiii., 12. “Whosoever has—in reality has—whosoever has made to himself a living possession of the truths which he has heard, to him shall more be ever given. But he that has received it only as something dead and outward, shall lose even that which he seems to have, but really has not.”162162 I must hold ὃ δοκεῖ ἔχειν to be the true reading of Luke, viii., 18, in spite of what De Wette says to the contrary. His knowledge, unspiritual and dead, will turn out to be worthless—the shell without the kernel.
Some have supposed that these words (v. 25) were merely a proverb of common life, of which Christ made a higher application. But the proofs that have been offered163163 Conf. Wetstein on Matt., xiii., 12. in favour of the existence of such a proverb are by no means to the point; and, in fact, it would be hardly true applied to temporal possessions, for the poor man can increase his small store by industry and prudence; and the rich, without those qualities, may soon lose his heaped-up treasures. The saying is fully true only in an ethical sense; it speaks of moral, and not material possessions. Applied, however, as a proverb, it must refer, not to mere possession, but to property held as such, and can only mean that he who holds property, as his own, will not keep it as dead capital, but gain more with it; while he, on the other hand, who does not know how to use what he has, will lose it. Thus understood, the words are not only fully applicable to the special case before us, but also to manifold relations in the sphere of moral life.
The apostles had as yet, in their intercourse with their Master, received but little; but that little was imprinted on their hearts. They did not, like the multitude, receive the word only by the hearing of the ear, but made it thoroughly and spiritually their own. And thus was laid within them the foundation of Christian progress.106
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