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his hearers in incomprehensible parables. with a design, from the beginning, to leave them as he found them, in delusion and impenitence, conformably with a decree of the Almighty to effect the salvation of a particular portion of mankind — appears to be completely at variance with the character of our Lord's discourses in general, and irreconcilable, in particular, with his express declarations of divine mercy to the Jewish people. But there is a particular phraseology in the sacred writings relative to our Saviour's use of parables, as well as to several other facts, which may appear to lend such an inference considerable support and plausibility, and which it may seem difficult to reconcile with the opinion, that, in adopting that mode of instruction, he contemplated the benefit of his hearers. In the first place, then, we shall consider that particular phraseology, and endeavour to explain its specific import.. .
From the account which St. Matthew has given of the answer which our Lord returned to the inquiry of his disciples, “Why speakest thou in parables ?” we learn that he pointed their attention to the insensibility and unteachableness of the Jewish people as the fulfilment of a prophecy relating to them.
Now, if the terms in which the Evangelists, in this as well as in other instances, assert the accomplishment of a prophecy, were received in a strictly literal sense, we should be compelled to infer that the event predicted was the effect of a divine preordination : that the event fell out because it was predetermined by the Almighty, as well as foretold by the mouth of his prophet. In the instance before us, however, there is an important variation in the terms of our Lord's reply to the inquiry of his disciples, respecting his use of parables, as it is recorded by the several Evangelists. For example, the language ascribed to our Lord by St. Matthew affords no colour whatever for the presumption that the blindness and insensibility of the Jews were the effect of a divine decree ; and presents no apparent harshness or difficulty at all. “ Therefore speak I to them in parables : because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled* the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand ; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For this people's heart is waxed gross.”
* Kai dvarimpoūtai ÊT' avtołę napoontela 'Hoatov.- Matt. xiii. 14.
These words simply accuse the insensibility of the Jewish people - their untractableness to religious instruction and discipline; and inform us that their criminal hardness of heart was the verification of a prophecy concerning them. The language of our Lord, as set down by St. Luke in the text, differs, in an important particular, from the version of it by St. Matthew :-“ Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables ; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.”* These words seem to affirm that the hardness and perversion of the Jewish mind was absolutely preordained by the Almighty, no less than predicted by the inspiration of his Spirit. The words of St. Mark are almost entirely the same as those of St. Luke; and these evangelists omit altogether our Lord's allusion to the prophecy of Esaias, though we can scarcely doubt that it was in the mind of each of them in recording this declaration of their Master. Again, St. John cites the prediction of Isaiah as a commentary of his own on the unbelief of the Jews :“ But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him :
* ίνα βλέποντες μη βλέπωσι, και ακούοντες μη συνιώσιν.
that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report ? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias when he saw his glory, and spake of him.”* This variety in the terms in which the inspired writers record the declaration of our Saviour in question, merits especial observation ; inasmuch as it seems to preclude a rigorously literal acceptation of the wording of it by any one of them in particular; and instructs us to receive it in such a sense as supports the analogy of Scripture, and, more especially, as is most in unison with the strain in which Esaias was wont to address the people of Israel. It must be immediately evident, however, that the sense which we dispute but ill accords with the spirit that breathes through the pages of that prophet : filled, as they are, with unlimited offers of divine mercy, and the most encouraging exhortations to repentance. But we can dispense with this consideration, auxiliary, as it undoubtedly is, to the force of our argument.
* John xii. 37–42.
· We grant that the Evangelists, in the instance before us as well as on other occasions, relate the fulfilment of a prophecy as if the prediction of the event had been equivalent to à declaration of a divine decree to bring it to pass, and as if the event took place in order to verify the prophecy, and to accomplish the predetermination of God. We have indeed a remarkable instance of this mode of speech in the following passage, in the Gospel of St. John: -“For this cometh to pass that the word might be fulfilled that is written in the law, They hated me without a cause.”* Again,—“While I was with them in the world I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” These passages, if understood literally, would show an awful consistency with the words of the text, and inform us that not only the enmity of the Jews against Christ, but the treachery and perdition of Judas, were the result and fulfilment of a decree of the Almighty, which had been announced in the form of a prophecy. * John xx. 25.
John xvii. 12.