At the beginning of his ministry, our Saviour did not make much use of parables. But, after he had been preaching for some time, he made a change in his way of teaching, in this respect. He began to use parables very freely. His disciples were surprised at this. On one occasion, after he had used the parable of the Sower, they came to their Master and asked him why he always spake to the people now in parables? We have our Saviour's answer to this question in St. Matt, xiii: 11-18. And it is a remarkable answer. The meaning of it is that he used parables for two reasons: one was to help those who really wished to learn from him to understand what he was teaching. The other was that those who were not willing to be taught might listen to him without understanding what he was saying. These people had heard him when he was teaching without parables. But, instead of thanking him for coming to teach them, and of being willing to do what he wanted them to do, they found fault with his teaching, and would not mind what he said.
Now, there is a great difference between the way in which we are to learn what the Bible teaches us about God and heaven; and the way in which we learn other things. If we want to learn what the Bible teaches us we must be careful that we are having right feelings in our hearts; but if we want to learn other things it does not matter so much what our feelings are. For instance, suppose you have a lesson to learn in geography; no matter how you are feeling, whether you are proud, or humble; whether you are cross, or gentle; yet if you only study hard enough, and long enough, you can learn that lesson. But, if you want to learn one of the lessons that Jesus teaches, no matter how hard, or how long you study it, yet while you are giving way to proud, or angry feelings in your heart, you can never learn that lesson. And the reason is that we cannot learn these lessons unless we have the special help of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. But this help can never be had while we give way to wrong feelings in our hearts. In learning geography, and other such lessons, we do not need the special help of God. We can learn them ourselves, if we only try. But we cannot learn the lessons that Jesus teaches in this way. This is what the Psalmist means when he says: -- "The meek will he teach his way." Ps. xxv: 9. And this was what our Saviour meant when he said: "If any man will do his will, he shall know." St. John vii: 17. We must be willing to be taught; -- and willing to obey; if we wish to understand what Jesus, "The Great Teacher," has to tell us.
Some one has well said that truth, taught by a parable, is like the kernel hid away in a nut. The parable, like the shell of the nut, covers up the kernel. Those who really want the kernel will crack the shell, and get it: but those who are not willing to crack the shell will never get the kernel. The shell of the nut keeps the kernel safe for one of these persons, and safe from the others.
But, after the time of which we have spoken, Jesus used parables freely. We are told that -- "without a parable spake he not unto the people." St. Mark xiii: 34. He used parables among his disciples for two reasons: these were to help them to understand, and to remember what he taught them.
We have a great many of the parables of Jesus in the gospels. A full list of them will contain not less than fifty. It would be easy enough to make a sermon on each of these parables. But that would make a larger work than this whole LIFE OF CHRIST, on which we are now engaged. It is impossible therefore to speak of all the parables. We can only make selections, or take some specimens of them. We may speak of five different lessons as illustrated by some of the parables of Christ. These are -- The value of religion: Christ's love of sinners: The duty of forgiveness: The duty of kindness: and the effect of good example.
Well then, we may begin by considering what Jesus taught us of -- THE VALUE OF RELIGION -- in his parables.
The parable of The Treasure Hid in the Field teaches us this truth. We find this parable in St. Matt. xiii: 44. Here Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." The words "kingdom of heaven" are used by our Saviour in different senses. Sometimes, as here, they mean the grace of God, or true religion. And what Jesus teaches us by this parable is that true religion is more valuable than anything else in the world.
The next parable, in the forty-fifth and forty-sixth verses of the same chapter, is about The Pearl of Great Price. This teaches the same lesson. It reads thus: -- "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." By this "pearl of great price" Jesus meant true religion, as he did by the treasure hid in the field in the former parable. And the truth he teaches in both these parables is that religion is more important to us than anything else in the world. Let us look at some incidents that may help to illustrate for us the value of religion.
"Jesus Makes Everything Right." A poor lame boy became a Christian, and in telling what effect this change had upon him, these are the words he used to a person who was visiting him: "Once every thing went wrong at our house; father was wrong, mother was wrong, sister was wrong, and I was wrong; but now, since I have learned to know and love Jesus it is all right. I know why everything went wrong before: -- it was because I was wrong myself." And this is true. The first thing that religion does for us is to make us be right ourselves, and then to do right to others.
"Be." A young lady had been trying to do something very good, but had not succeeded. Her mother said, "Marian, my child, God gives us many things to do, but we must not forget that he gives us some things to be; and we must learn to be what God would have us be, before we can do what God would have us do."
"O dear mother, please tell me about being, and then I shall know better about doing."
"Well, listen my child, while I remind you of some of the Bible be's: God says:
"Be -- ye kindly affectioned one to another."
"Be -- ye also patient."
"Be -- ye thankful."
"Be -- ye children in malice."
"Be -- ye therefore perfect."
"Be -- courteous."
"Be -- not wise in your own conceits."
"Be -- not overcome of evil."
"Thank you, dear mother," said Marian. "I hope I shall have a better day to-morrow; for I see now that doing grows out of being."
This is a point worth dwelling on, and so I will introduce to your notice here:
A SWARM OF BEES WORTH HIVING.
"Be patient, Be prayerful, Be humble, Be mild,
"Be studious, Be thoughtful, Be loving, Be kind,
"Be cautious, Be prudent, Be trustful, Be true,
"Be temperate in argument, pleasure and wine,
"Be cheerful, Be grateful, Be hopeful, Be firm,
"Be courageous, Be gentle Be liberal, Be just,
"Be penitent, circumspect, sound in the faith,
"Be honest, Be holy, transparent and pure;
Here is a swarm of between forty and fifty bees. The religion of Jesus will help us to make these all our own. How great then must the value of religion be! Surely it is worth while for each of us to try and secure it!
I think I never saw a better view of the value of religion than is seen in the following statement of what it does for us. I know not by whom it was written, but it is put in the form of that sacred sign to which we owe all the blessings of salvation -- the sign of
"Blest they who seek
"Leaving it All with Jesus." Annie W ... was a young Christian. In her fourteenth year she was taken with a severe illness, from which the doctor said she could not recover. When she became too weak to leave the sofa, she would send for one and another of the neighbors to come in to see her, and then she would speak to them of Jesus and his great salvation. One day a poor old woman who was not a Christian, came in to see her.
"You are very ill, my dear," she said to Annie.
"Yes," she replied, "but I shall soon be well."
The poor woman shook her head as she looked at Annie's mother, saying, "Poor dear creature; she cannot possibly get well. No: she will never get over it." Then turning to Annie, she said:
"Don't you know, my dear, that you are going to die?"
"I know I am going to live," she said with a sweet smile. "I shall soon be with Jesus in heaven, and live forever with him."
"Oh, how can you know that, my dear? We must not be too sure you know," said the poor woman.
"Oh," said Annie, pointing to a card hanging on the wall, near her bed, on which was printed in large letters the hymn headed -- "I leave it all with Jesus." "That's what I do! That's what I do." These are the words of the hymn which gave that dear child so much comfort on her dying bed:
"I leave it all with Jesus,
"I leave it all with Jesus,
"I bring it all to Jesus,
"Each tear, each sigh, each trouble,
And here we have a beautiful illustration of one of the things which Jesus taught us in his parables, namely -- the value of religion.
Another thing we are taught in these parables is -- CHRIST'S LOVE FOR SINNERS.
The parable of the lost sheep teaches us this truth: but as we had occasion to speak of this in our last chapter, when illustrating the tenderness of Christ, as the Great Teacher, we may let that pass now. But the parable of the lost piece of money teaches the same lesson. We have this parable in St. Luke xv: 8th and 9th verses. Here we are told of a woman who had ten pieces of silver, and lost one of them. Then she laid the others aside, and searched diligently for the lost piece till she found it. This woman represents Jesus. The lost piece of money represents our souls lost by sin. The efforts of the woman to find the lost piece represent what Jesus did, when he left heaven, and took our nature upon him, and came as "the Son of man to seek and to save that which was lost." And it was the love of Jesus for poor sinners which led him to do all this for us. And everything connected with the history of Jesus when he was on earth shows the greatness of his love. Think of Bethlehem and its manger; there we see the love of Jesus. Think of Gethsemane with its bloody sweat; there we see the love of Jesus. Think of Calvary with its cross of shame and agony; for there we see the love of Jesus.
And the parable of the prodigal son teaches us the same lesson. We read of this in the same chapter, St. Luke xv: 11-32. This son had been disobedient and ungrateful. He had taken the money his father gave him and had gone away and spent it in living very wickedly. And when the money was all spent and he was likely to starve, he went back to his father, hungry and ragged, and asked to be taken in. And instead of scolding and punishing him as he deserved, as soon as his father saw him, he ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and took off his rags, and dressed him in good clothes, and made a great feast for him. How beautifully this parable illustrates the love of Christ for sinners!
And when we learn to know and feel the love of Christ for us, it does two blessed things for us.
One is, it makes us good. We hear a great deal about conversion. This word conversion simply means -- turning. When a person has been living without trying to serve or please God, and is led to see how wrong it is to live in that way, and then feels an earnest desire to turn around, and live differently, and really does so: -- that is conversion. The teaching or preaching of the gospel is the chief means that God employs to convert men. And the thing about the gospel in which this converting power lies is -- the love of Christ. Here is an illustration of what this means.
"He Loved Me." An English minister of the gospel was traveling in Switzerland one summer. As he passed from place to place, he preached by means of an interpreter in various churches. One Sunday night he preached from the words, "He loved me, and gave himself for me." Gal. ii: 20. Then he went on his way without knowing what effect had followed from his preaching.
One Saturday evening, several weeks after, the minister of this church was sitting in his study. There came a faint knock at his door. He opened it, when, to his great surprise he saw there a young man, who was known as the wickedest young man in that neighborhood, and the leader of others in all sorts of wickedness. He invited him in, gave him a seat, and asked him what he wished. Judge of his surprise when the young man said he wished to inquire if he might come to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, which was to be celebrated in his church the next day!
"But are you not aware, my young friend," said the minister, "that only those who love Christ, and are trying to serve him, have any right to come to that holy ordinance?"
"I know it, sir," said the young man, "and I am thankful to feel that I am among that number."
"But," asked the astonished pastor, "are you not known in this village as the ringleader in all evil doings?"
"Alas! it is too true that it has been so," he replied, "but thank God all is changed now."
"I am happy indeed to hear it; but pray tell me what led to this great change."
"I was in your church, sir," said he, "some weeks ago, when that English minister preached from the words, 'Who loved me and gave himself for me,' That was the first time I ever understood about the love of Christ. It led to my repentance and conversion; and now I wish to show my love to Jesus by trying to serve and please him."
Here we see how the love of Christ makes us good.
But it makes us happy, as well as good. Here is a little story that illustrates this point very well. We may call it:
"Maggie's Secret." "Maggie Blake, how can you study so hard, and be so provokingly good?" This question was asked by Jennie Lee, who was one of the largest and wildest girls in the school. Maggie hesitated a moment, whether to tell her secret or not. But, presently she lifted up her eyes, looked her companion bravely in the face, and said -- "It's for Jesus' sake, Jennie."
"But do you think he cares?" asked Jennie in a soft, subdued voice, -- "do you think he cares how we act?"
"I know he does," said Maggie. "And it makes it so pleasant you see, even to study and get hard lessons, when I know he is looking at me, and is pleased to have me working my best for him. He always helps me to get my lessons; and then helps me to say them right. You know I used to be so frightened I could not say them, even when I had learned them well."
"Yes," said Jennie, remembering very well how Maggie had changed in that respect.
"That was before I thought of learning them for Jesus. After that he helped me all along. It makes me like school; and even disagreeable things are pleasant when I think of doing them for him."
Jennie had often watched Maggie, and wondered what made her have such a bright, cheerful, happy look. Now she knew the secret of it. It was doing everything "for Jesus' sake."
She felt she would gladly give everything she had to be as happy as Maggie. She asked Maggie to pray for her, and she began to pray for herself. Then Jesus helped her, and she soon had Maggie's secret for her own. The girls in school wondered at the change which had come over Jennie. But when they heard that she had been confirmed, and had joined the church, they understood it all. They knew she "had been with Jesus;" and that it was learning to know and feel his wonderful love which had made Jennie so good, and so happy.
And so, we see that Jesus was doing a blessed thing for us when he taught the parables which show his love for sinners.
A third thing taught us by some of the parables of Jesus is -- THE DUTY OF KINDNESS.
One day, while Jesus was on earth, a young man came to him with the great question, what he should do to obtain eternal life. Jesus referred him to the Ten Commandments; and reducing them to two, he told the young man that these commandments required him to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself; and then said if he would do this he would be saved.
This is perfectly true. Any one would be saved who would do this. But no one ever has done this except our blessed Lord Himself. He "magnified the law and made it honorable" by keeping it perfectly. I suppose that Jesus intended to give this young man some lessons about the commandments of God which would lead him to see that he never could keep them himself; and that he would need some one to keep them for him, and that this was the only way in which he, or any one else could be saved. It may have been that the young man did not want to hear any thing more on that subject, and so he gave the conversation a different turn by asking -- "who is my neighbor?" when Jesus said he must love his neighbor as himself. And then, in answer to this question Jesus told the parable of the "Good Samaritan." We have this parable in St. Luke x: 30-37.
Here we are told of a certain man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves. They robbed him; and wounded him; and left him half dead. While he was lying there helpless and suffering, a priest and a Levite came, and looked on him, and passed by on the other side, without giving him any help. Then we are told that a certain Samaritan came by, and when he saw the poor wounded man lying there, although he was a Jew, and the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other very much, yet he pitied him, and went up to him, and bound up his wounds, and set him on his own beast, and carried him to an inn, and told them to take care of him, and said that he would pay all his expenses. Then Jesus asked the question, "Which now, of these three thinkest thou was neighbor to him that fell among thieves? And he said, he that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise."
Thus Jesus taught the duty of kindness. This kindness we must show, not to our friends only, but to our enemies. Kindness to all is the duty that Jesus teaches.
Let us look at one or two illustrations of the way in which we should do this.
"The Honey Shield." It is said that wasps and bees will not sting a person whose skin is covered with honey. And so those who are exposed to the sting of these venomous little creatures smear their hands and faces over with honey, and this, we are told, proves the best shield they can have to keep them from getting stung. And the honey here very well represents the kindness which Jesus teaches us to practise. If kindness, gentleness, and forbearance are found running through all our words and actions, we shall have the best shield to protect us from the spiteful stings of wicked people.
"Androcles and the Lion." Most of those who read these pages may have heard this story, but it illustrates the point before us so well that I do not hesitate to use it here.
Androcles was a Roman slave. To escape the cruel treatment of his master he ran away. A lonely cave in the midst of the forest was his home for a while. Returning to his cave one day he met a lion near the mouth of the cave. He was bellowing as if in pain; and on getting nearer to him, he found that he was suffering from a thorn which had run into one of his paws. It was greatly swollen and inflamed, and was causing him much pain. Androcles went up to the suffering beast. He drew out the rankling thorn and thus relieved him of his pain. His nature, savage as it was, felt the power of the kindness thus shown to him. He became attached to the lonely slave, and shared his prey with him while they remained together.
But, after a while the retreat of Androcles was discovered. He was taken and carried back to his master. The lion also was made a prisoner soon after. Androcles was kept in prison for some time; and finally, according to the custom of the Romans, he was condemned to be devoured by wild beasts. The lion to be let loose on Androcles had been kept a long time without food and was very hungry. When the door of his den was opened he rushed out with a tremendous roar. The Colosseum was crowded with spectators. They expected to see the poor slave torn to pieces in a moment. But, to the surprise of everyone, the great monster, hungry as he was, instead of devouring the condemed man, crouched at his feet, and began to fondle him, as a pet dog would do. He recognized in the poor prisoner his friend of the forest and showed that he had not forgotten his kindness. The kindness of Androcles had been like the honey shield to him. It saved his life, first from the savage beast in the forest; and then from the savage men in the city. Let us all put on this shield, and wear it wherever we go. The lesson of kindness which Jesus teaches in this parable, has been very well put by some one in these sweet lines:
THE LESSON OF KINDNESS.
"Think kindly of the erring!
"Speak kindly to the erring!
The duty of kindness was the third lesson Jesus taught in the parables.
A fourth lesson taught us in some of the parables of Jesus is -- -- THE DUTY OF FORGIVENESS.
The apostle Peter came to Jesus one day, and asked him how often he ought to forgive a brother that offended him; and whether it would be enough to forgive him seven times. The answer of Jesus was, "I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven."
St. Matt.18: 22. Then Jesus spoke the parable of the two debtors. St. Matt.18: 23-35. One of these owed his master ten thousand talents. If these were talents of silver they would amount to more than fifteen millions of dollars. If they were talents of gold, they would amount to three hundred millions. This would show that his debt was so great that he never could pay it. Then his master freely forgave him. But not long after, he found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred pence, or about fifteen dollars of our money. The man asked him to forgive him the debt. He would not do it; but put him in prison. When his master heard this he was very angry, and put him in prison, where he should be punished until he had paid all his great debt. And Jesus finished the parable by saying -- "so likewise, shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye, from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." And here we are taught the great duty of forgiveness. And this same duty is taught us in the Lord's Prayer, where he says -- "Forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us." If we use this prayer without forgiving those who injure us, then, in so using it, we are really asking God not to forgive us. And Jesus practised what he preached. As he hung bleeding and agonizing on the cross, while his enemies were cruelly mocking his misery, he looked up to heaven, and uttered that wonderful prayer -- "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." Here we have the best illustration of forgiveness that the world has ever seen.
"Example of Forgiveness." In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another. The offending boy was brought up to be punished, when the injured boy begged for his pardon. The teacher asked -- "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The ready reply was -- "Because I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we must forgive our enemies; and therefore I forgive him, and beg that he may not be punished for my sake."
"Good for Evil." At the foot of a street in New York, stood an Italian organ grinder, with his organ. A number of boys had gathered round him, but they were more anxious to have some fun than to hear music. One of them said to his companions:
"See! I'll hit his hat!"
And sure enough he did. Making up a snow ball, he threw it with so much force that the poor man's hat was knocked into the gutter. A gentleman standing by expected to see him get very angry, and swear at the boy. But, very different from this was the result that followed. The musician stopped; stepped forward and picked up his hat. Then he turned to the rude boy, and gracefully bowing, said:
"And now, I'll play you a tune to make you merry!" There was real Christian forgiveness.
"The Power of the Gospel." Years ago some carpenters moved to the Island of New Zealand, and set up a shop for carrying on their business. They were engaged to build a chapel at one of the Mission Stations. One of these carpenters, a pleasant, kind-hearted man, engaged a native Christian to dig his garden for him. When the work was done the man went to the shop for his pay. Another of the carpenters there, who was a very ill-tempered man, told the native to get out of the shop. "Don't be angry," was the gentle reply; "I have only come to have a little talk with your partner, and to get my wages from him." "But I am angry." And then taking hold of the New Zealander by the shoulder, he abused and kicked him in the most cruel manner.
The native made no resistance till the carpenter ceased. Then he jumped up, seized him by the throat, and snatching a small axe from the bench, flourished it threateningly over his head. "Now, you see," said he, "your life is in my hand. You see my arm is strong enough to kill you; and my arm is quite willing, but my heart is not. I have heard the missionaries preach the gospel of forgiveness. You owe your life to the preaching of the gospel. If my heart was as dark now as it was before the gospel was preached here, I should strike off your head in an instant!"
Then he released the carpenter without injuring him and accepted from him a blanket as an apology for the insult. How faithfully this man was practising the duty of forgiveness which Jesus taught!
The only other thing of which we shall now speak, as taught by our Saviour in the parables, is -- THE INFLUENCE OF GOOD EXAMPLE.
The parable which teaches this lesson is that of the lighted candle. It is one of the shortest of our Lord's parables, and yet the truth it teaches is very important. We first find this parable in the sermon on the mount. These are the words in which it is given: "Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matt, v: 15. This parable is so important that we find it repeated in three other places. Mark iv: 21, Luke viii: 16, and xi: 33.
We find the same idea taught by one of England's greatest writers. Looking at a candle shining through a window, he says:
"How far yon little candle throws its beam!
And the lesson we are here taught is that we should always set a good example by doing what we know to be right, and then, like a candle shining in a dark place, we shall be useful wherever we go. Let us look at one or two incidents that illustrate this.
"A Boy's Influence." Two families lived in one house. In each of these families there was a little boy about the same age. These boys slept together. One of them had a good pious mother. She had trained him to kneel down every night, before getting into bed, and say his prayer in an audible voice, and to repeat a text of scripture which she had taught him. Now the first time he slept with the other little boy, who never said any prayers, he was tempted to jump into bed, as his companion did, without kneeling down to pray. But he was a brave and noble boy. He said to himself -- "I am not afraid to do what my mother taught me. I am not ashamed for anybody to know that I pray to God. I'll do as I have been taught to do." He did so. He let his light shine. And see what followed from its shining!
The little boy who had never been taught to pray learned his companion's prayer, and the verse he repeated, by hearing them, and he never forgot them. He grew up to be an earnest Christian man. When he lay on his deathbed, quite an aged man, he sent for the friend, whose prayer he had learned, to come and see him, and told him that it was his little prayer, so faithfully said every night when they were boys, which led him to become a Christian. He repeated the prayer and the verse, word for word, and with his dying lips thanked his friend for letting his light shine as he did, for that had saved his soul.
Here is another illustration of a Christian letting his light shine and the good that was done by it. We may call it:
"The Shilling Bible, and what Came of It." Some years ago a Christian gentleman went on a visit for three days to the house of a rich lady who lived at the west end of London. After tea, on the first evening of his arrival, he called one of the servants, and telling her that in the hurry of leaving home he had forgotten to bring a Bible with him, he requested her to ask the lady of the house to be kind enough to lend him one.
Now that house was beautifully furnished. There were splendid pictures on the walls, and elegantly bound volumes in the library and on the tables in the parlor; but there was not a Bible in the house. The lady felt ashamed to own that she had no Bible. So she gave the servant a shilling and told her to go to the book store round the corner and buy a Bible. The Bible was bought and given to the gentleman. He used it during his visit, and then went home, little knowing how much good that shilling Bible was to do.
When he was gone the lady at whose house he had been staying said to herself:
"How strange it is that an intelligent gentleman like my friend could not bear to go for three days without reading the Bible, while I never read it at all, and don't know what it teaches. I am curious to know what there is in this book to make it so attractive. I mean to begin and read it through." She began to read it at first out of simple curiosity. But, as she went on reading she became deeply interested in it. It showed her what a sinner she was in living without God in the world. It led her to pray earnestly for the pardon of her sins; and the end of it was that she became a Christian. Then she desired that her children should know and love the Saviour too. She prayed for them. She talked with them, and taught them the precious truths contained in that blessed book. And the result was that, one by one, they were all led to Jesus and became Christians. And so that whole family were saved by means of that shilling Bible.
When that gentleman asked for the use of a Bible in the house where he was visiting, he was setting a good example. He was putting his candle on a candlestick and letting it shine. And the result that followed gives us a good illustration of the meaning of our Saviour's words when he said: -- "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
And so, when we remember the parables that Jesus taught, among other things illustrated by them, we can think of these, -- the value of religion; -- Christ's love for sinners; -- the duty of kindness; -- the duty of forgiveness; -- the influence of a good example.
I know not how to finish this subject better than in the words of the hymn:
"Father of mercies! in thy word,