Matthew 13:3. And he spake many things unto them “Delivered many doctrines of the highest importance, wisely making choice of such for the subject of his sermons, when he had the greatest number of hearers, because on those occasions there was a probability of doing the most good by them.” In parables The word parable sometimes signifies a sublime discourse, elevated beyond the common forms of speech, as Numbers 23:7; Numbers 24:15; Job 27:1; Job 29:1, where see the notes: sometimes a mere proverb, or adage, such as those mentioned Luke 4:23, Physician, heal thyself; and Luke 6:39, Can the blind lead the blind? in both which places the word παραβολη , parable, is used in the original, and in the former place is rendered proverb in our translation. Sometimes the word means an apologue, or fable, as Ezekiel 17:2, where also see the note. But here, and generally in the gospels, the word is to be understood, according to its Greek etymology, as signifying a similitude or comparison, namely, taken from the ordinary affairs of men, and used to illustrate the things of God. As this is the first time the term occurs in this history, and as we shall frequently meet with it hereafter, it may not be improper to make the following general observations, applicable, more or less, to all our Lord’s parables. 1st. It is not necessary to a parable that the matter contained, or things related in it, should be true in fact. For parables are not spoken to inform us in matters of fact, but in some spiritual truths, to which they bear some proportion. This we see in Jotham’s parable of the trees going to choose themselves a king, Jdg 9:7 to Jdg 15:2 d. It is not necessary that all the actions of men, mentioned in a parable, should be morally just and good. The actions of the unjust steward, Luke 16:1-8, were not Song of Song of Solomon 3:0 dly. For the right understanding of a parable, our great care must be to attend to the main scope of it; or to what our Lord had chiefly in view, and designed to teach by it. 4th. This may be learned, either from his general or more particular explication of it; or from what hath been termed the pro-parabola, or preface to the parable; or the epi-parabola, or conclusion of it. 5th. It is not to be expected that all the particular actions or things represented in a parable, should be answered by something in the explication. Lastly, Though the scope of the parable be the main thing we are to attend to, yet it may collaterally inform us in several other things also. This way of teaching, extremely common in the eastern countries, and much used by our Lord, was particularly calculated to draw and fix the attention of mankind; to excite the inquiry of such as were well disposed, and to lead them to a serious examination and diligent searching after the truth veiled under such emblems; to teach, in a manner the most natural, beautiful, and instructive, by common and familiar objects, the most divine and important doctrines, and give clearer ideas of them than could have been otherwise attained; to cause divine truths to make a more deep and lasting impression on men’s minds, and to be better remembered. Our Lord’s parables were particularly adapted to produce this last-mentioned effect, being generally taken from those objects about which his hearers were daily employed, or which daily came under their observation. Add to this, he taught by parables, that he might convey in a manner the least offensive some very ungrateful and unpalatable truths, such as the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles. It must be observed, also, as we learn from Matthew 13:11-15, that, by an awful mixture of justice and mercy, our Lord intended hereby to throw a veil over some of the mysteries of his kingdom, and to conceal from the proud and careless those truths which, if they understood, he foresaw they would only abuse to their greater condemnation.
In this chapter our Lord delivers seven parables, directing the four former, as being of general concern, to all the people; the three latter, to his disciples. He begins with the parable of a sower who cast his seed on four different kinds of ground, only one of which brought forth fruit, not because of any difference in the seed wherewith the others were sown, or any defect in the cultivation of them, but because of other reasons specified in the parable. And these were designed to represent four classes of hearers of the word of God, only one of which bears fruit to his glory; not because a different doctrine is declared to the others, or less labour bestowed upon them, but because of the hinderances of fruitfulness spoken of in the explanation of the parable. How exquisitely proper was this parable to be an introduction to all the rest! inasmuch as in it our Lord shows us why, when the same sower, he himself, or any messenger of his, always sows the same seed, it does not always produce the same effect.
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