The lamp of parabolic teaching.
Probably the opposition, malignity, and misrepresentation of the scribes and Pharisees were the occasion of the commencement by our Lord of a new style of public teaching. He did not wish at present to excite so much turmoil and violence as should lead to the interruption of his ministry. His design was to introduce into men's minds new ideas of the spiritual reign of God—ideas altogether in contradiction to their own carnal notions and hopes. He knew, however, the importance of considering the character and the mental position of the learner, in order that the mature might be thoroughly enlightened and instructed, in order that the immature might be encouraged to inquiry and to thought, in order that, for a season, the doctrine might remain concealed from the unspiritual and the unsympathetic.
I. THE LAMP OF DIVINE TEACHING IS INTENDED TO GIVE LIGHT . The Galilean cottage had its lampstand, its bed, its corn-measure; and every peasant could see the absurdity of first kindling the lamp and then hiding it under the meal-box or the couch. Let it be put upon the lofty stand, and it will give light to all. So when Christ came, the great Teacher, the great Saviour, he came a light into the world, to be the light, of men. His words, his character, his deeds, his whole life, were an illumination from heaven. When he taught he taught for all humanity and for all time.
II. THE PARABOLIC FORM OF TEACHING WAS NO EXCEPTION . The parable hid the truth, made a secret of it, enclosed it like a jewel in a casket. But it was never intended that the truth should remain concealed; the intention was that it should be manifested, that it should come to light ( Mark 4:22 ). And, as a matter of fact, the figurative and pictorial form has served to display and illumine rather than to hide the great truths of Christianity. To how many simple, childlike minds have the parables of our Lord Jesus brought home lessons of wisdom, grace, hope, and consolation! And what materials for reflection, what profound spiritual help and illumination, have they afforded to the thoughtful student of the Word! And what themes for the teacher, the preacher, the expositor, have these parables ever been found! They are "a mystery;" but a mystery is a truth once hidden but now made clear and published abroad.
III. IN FACT , PARABOLIC TEACHING IS DARKNESS TO THE UNSPIRITUAL AND LIGHT TO THE SPIRITUAL . Like all good things, it may be used and it may be abused. When Christ speaks, there are those who do not perceive, who do not understand. Is this the fault of the Word? No, it is the fault of their own inattentive, unreceptive, unsympathizing nature. It is they, the hearers, who are to blame; not the truth which they will not appreciate ( Mark 4:12 ). Yet are there those "who have ears to hear;" and these hear. To them the Word is as music, satisfying their souls, bringing to them the thoughts of the Divine mind, the love of the Divine heart, the secret of the Divine purposes. To them it is said, "Happy are your ears, for they hear!"
IV. CHRISTIANS LEARN THE MYSTERY THAT THEY MAY PUBLISH IT . Speaking especially to his apostles, but through them to all who receive the gospel, our Lord bids those who welcome and value the truth to proclaim it far and wide. It is light intended for the world's illumination; let it be set up on high, that all in this great dark house of humanity may see their way to God. It is meal for the hungering multitude; let it be dealt forth to every applicant with no sparing hand, no grudging heart. There is light enough for all who are in darkness; bread enough for all who are in danger of starving. It is the office of the members of Christ's Church to hold forth the light of life, to take of the food and, as it multiplies in their hands, to give to the vast multitude in the barren wilderness.
V. WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE BOTH FOR THE WAY IN WHICH WE RECEIVE AND FOR THE WAY IN WHICH WE IMPART DIVINE TRUTH .
1 . "Take heed what and how ye hear." It is unprofitable and wrong to offer a willing ear to every teacher, to all tidings. On the other hand, it is folly and sin to turn away from him who speaketh from heaven, or to listen to him with inattention, with unconcern, with unsympathizing, unbelieving hearts.
2 . "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you." Be faithful, be diligent, fulfill your trust with zeal and wisdom, display benevolence towards the untaught and the unblessed, and you shall receive more—more of truth and more of spiritual enrichment and joy. On the other hand, the selfish, the unpitying, the unfaithful, shall gain nothing by spiritual niggardliness; from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Revelation and not concealment the final purpose of the truth.
I. THIS APPEARS FROM :
1 . Its very nature. That which reveals ( e.g. light) is not to be itself hidden. Its whole tendency is and has been towards greater manifestation. Each revelation of God has been grandee than that which preceded.
2 . Its central significance in the Divine economy. It has evidently a practical relation to the whole, just as "the lamp" had to the peasant's room, as the general means of illumination. Everything in the world, in human lives, and in the constitution of the human soul answers to its interpreting light, which is the only true light by which they can be understood.
3 . The existence in man of a faculty for its discernment. This may have been overlaid or perverted; but it really exists, and will answer to the believing effort to exercise it. It is Satan, not God, who has blinded the minds of those who are lost.
II. HOW STRONG MUST HAVE BEEN THE REASONS FOR TEMPORARY CONCEALMENT !
1 . The fearful wickedness of the contemporaries of Jesus. A last time with reference to many preceding stages of darkening spiritual consciousness.
2 . The revelation of that wickedness in convicting it of ignorance of Divine things.
3 . The preservation of the Personal Truth in human/Grin until his manifestation should be complete. —M.
The duty of faithfully hearing the Word.
H e who taught by every act of his life, and who had already given many most important lessons with his lips, now, after the interruptions just recorded, "began to teach" more formally. It was "by the seaside," the multitude standing "by the sea on the land," and he "entered into a boat, and sat in the sea." "He taught them many things in parables." The first of these and one of the chief of the parables and the chiefest of all on the subject of " the Word," is, with its explanation, the key to many others. The lesson of the whole is summed up in the words of Mark 4:24 , "Heed what ye hear." It was not without purpose that he spoke of hearing. All depends upon it. Noah, Moses, Paul, Jesus himself, will preach in vain if men hear not with care. The parable teaches—
I. THE ESPECIAL , EVILS AGAINST WHICH MEN GUARD IN HEARING THE WORD .
1 . The first evil is losing the Word before faith has made it fruitful. "The parable is this: the seed is the Word of God." The kingdom of heaven grows from this seed only. By it alone is conviction of sin wrought; by it is faith begotten; by it Christ is revealed; by it regeneration is effects; by it the way of life is defined; by it are men sanctified; by it hope, and patience, and charity, and all graces are strengthened. This great lesson is, by both preachers and hearers, to be pondered. But the Word, by whomsoever sown, may be lost before it is fruitful. It may be taken out of the heart, out of the memory, from the understanding. "When they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the Word which hath been sown in them."
2 . A second danger is from a mere temporary faith. There is "no deepness of earth," "no root in themselves." They "endure for a while." A little thing turns them away from that which they received "straightway with joy," but without counting the cost.
3 . A third evil is the fruitlessness of the Word through the "cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things," especially "the pleasures of this life." The ground is good; the seed is good; it is well received and kept in the heart; yet is it choked. Yea, even God's good Word sown in the heart by Christ's own hand may be choked. This is a danger to which every believer is exposed. It is allowing other growths to sap this, other things to take up the time and attention, to absorb the interest, to steal the affections. The poor are in danger from "the cares of the world;" the rich from "the deceitfulness of riches." The parable teaches—
II. THE REWARD OF FAITHFUL HEARING . "He that hath, to him shall be given." To him that hath as the fruit of his diligence, not simply what was given to him—all had this—to him shall be added the Lord's increase, over and above the natural consequences of his carefulness. He who so uses Divine truth as to be the better for it is in more favorable circumstances to receive and understand. Such know the truth, for "the mystery of the kingdom of God is given" to them. Every step in the ascent makes the next step possible. Truth grows to its perfection (that is to say, the character which is the product of truth) when it is "heard" and held fast in "an honest and good heart;" a heart inwardly good and outwardly honest; a heart honestly desiring the Word and acting honestly by it. To such there is "fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold." This is the truly prepared ground—ploughed, as could not be said of "the wayside" or the "stony ground." The parable further teaches—
III. THE CONDEMNATION OF HIM WHO HEARETH NOT TO PROFIT .
1 . " He that hath not," i.e. hath not any fruit of his careful hearing, hath nothing more than was first given to him; "even that which he hath"—that which was given to him—"shall be taken away." Disregarded truth becomes disliked truth, and by him who does not use his understanding about it, it is naturally forgotten. So the condemnation takes the form of a removal of the truth.
2 . In carelessness he puts the truth away from him. His measure is small, so he metes it to himself.
3 . To hear is a duty; to neglect brings God's condemnation.
4 . He who does not so receive God's truth as to become a true subject of the kingdom of heaven, is in the kingdom of evil, and continued disobedience leaves the man further and further from God.
5 . So truth assumes the form of a parable to him. His eye is dimmed. He sees only the outward word; of the inward meaning, which is experimental, he knows nothing. Even Christ, his work and his gospel, may be to men a mere parable. They know not "the things" which are spoken. Thus is to be seen:
The use of the spirit.
I. THE FACULTIES OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT COMPARED TO LIGHT . We may take any division of them we please: intellectual, emotional, volitional; head, heart, hand;—the comparison holds good.
1 . Light is cheering, so is intellect; sound reasoning, bright fancy, lambent wit, genial humor, sound knowledge.
2 . With light goes heat. The sound head is generally associated with the large heart. Carlyle said that a great heart was the foundation of talent.
3 . Light promotes morality, purity, progress; dispels the thoughts and deeds of darkness. Great is the blessing of the presence and action of the man of high principle in the home, the Church, the court, the senate, the judgment seat.
4 . It is revealing. The beauties of nature exist not for us in the darkness. Nor can we see the wonders of God in the spiritual or ideal world without the light shed by the genius of the scientific man, the moralist, the philosopher, and the poet.
II. FACULTIES GIVEN TO BE USED .
1 . If not used they are hardly possessed. They dwindle and become enfeebled in disuse. "To him that hath shall be given," etc. this lies the important differences between man and man. The seeming stupid becomes bright by patient friction with difficulty, while the idle clever man rusts and blunts his edge.
"If our virtues go not forth from us, 'tis all
As one as though we had them not."
2. God is an exact creditor, tie starts us in life with a certain fixed capital of energy; just such and such a sum or number of talents. The rest is our part. The increase may be indefinite, in this world and worlds to come. He "lends not the smallest scruple of his excellence, but, like a thrifty creditor, demands both thanks and use." Let life be the grateful repayment of the spiritual loan. If we do not "pay our way" we shall suffer for it.
"Wouldst thou seal up the avenues of ill?
Pay every debt as if God wrote the bill."
3. In the long run, success or failure, prosperity or ruin, is the reaction of our own deeds. We reap as we sow. A Nemesis presides over all our works. "If you serve, or fancy you serve, an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer." "The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, penny for penny, to somebody. Beware of too much good staying in your hand. It will fast corrupt and breed worms. Pay it away quickly in some sort."—J.
Parallel passage: Luke 8:16-18 .—
Light and illumination.
I. TEMPORARY OBSCURATION . The heathens in their mysteries had esoteric doctrines only made known to the initiated, and not designed to be revealed at any time to the uninitiated. The obscuration in their case was permanent. Our Lord, at a particular period of his ministry and for a special purpose, veiled his teaching in parable. But this obscuration was only meant to continue for a time. Our Lord guards against the notion that the doctrines thus propounded were designed for perpetual concealment, or for revelation only to a select few. Accordingly he asks whether at all ( μήτι ) a lamp ( λύχνος ) is brought into an apartment in order to be secreted or to be set on a lamp-stand. The lamp is not brought, is it, to be put under a bushel (rather, a peck-measure, equivalent to the Roman modius ) or under a bed, and not to be set on a lamp-stand? The light in a dwelling may be concealed for some necessary purpose and for some short time, but this is contrary to its regular and proper use. So our Lord here implies that the light of his teaching may be partially concealed by parable, and confined for a time to a few immediate followers, but shall be manifested, and is meant to be manifested, all the more afterwards. The matter is expressed in two ways—first as a prediction, and secondly as a purpose. As a prediction, "There is nothing hid, that shall not be manifested;" or, more literally, There is not anything hid , that (or whatsoever ) may not be revealed. As a purpose," Neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad;" rather, Neither did anything become secret , but that it might come into open view. Like a lamp placed under some piece of domestic furniture for a short space and for some sufficient reason, the light of our Lord's doctrine was placed under the veil of parable or other obscuring medium for a time. But this position was never meant to be permanent—nay, the purpose was the very opposite; that is, to promote rather than prevent the future splendor and the further outshining of that bright and beautiful light.
II. RELATION OF LEARNING TO TEACHING . Our Lord's maxims never undergo a change of meaning, but their application necessarily varies with the context. After enunciating one of these maxims, viz. "If any man have ears to ear, let him hear," as a safeguard against possible error, and to prevent a not unlikely misconception, he proceeds to state another principle of his teaching, and another purpose to be accomplished. This principle was that the measure of attention given by the disciple to his Master would be rewarded with a proportionate measure of improvement; that in proportion to the desire of instruction and the use made of it by the disciple would be the benefit bestowed by the teacher. Again, the purpose was that the instructions thus received should be utilized for the advantage of others, so that the more the disciples profited as learners, so much the more they themselves would be able to impart to others, as preachers of the gospel and as teachers of the truth. Further, ulterior and higher attainments are promised to him who makes a right use of present attainments; while he "who has not," that is to say, who has not for ready use, and who does not make available his present or previous attainments, shall forfeit even what he has, or fancies he has. We thus learn that spiritual attainments and spiritual knowledge are never exactly at a standstill. They are either increasing by proper application and improvement, or decreasing by misuse and diminishing by neglect.—J.J.G.
Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, etc.? The Greek is ὁ λύχνος , and is better rendered the lamp. The figure is recorded by St. Matthew ( Matthew 5:15 ) as used by our Lord in his sermon on the mount. It is evident that he repeated his sayings, and used them sometimes in a different connection. The lamp is here the light of Divine truth, shining in the person of Christ. Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel ? It comes to us. The light in our souls is not of our own kindling; it comes to us from God, that we may manifest it for his glory. "The bushel" ( μόδιος ), from the Latin medias , a measure containing flour, was the flour-bin, a part of the furniture of every house, as was the tall lampstand with its single light. St, Luke ( Luke 8:16 ) calls it "a vessel" ( καλύπτει αὐτὸν σκεύει ). The light is to be set on "a lamp-stand," and in like manner the light which we have received is to shine before men. As Christians, we are Christ's light-bearers. By this illustration our Lord teaches that he was unwilling that the mysteries of this great parable of the sower and of other parables should be concealed, but that his disciples should unfold these things to others as he had to them, although at present they might not be able to receive them.