The parable is one of the most ancient modes of communicating moral instruction, and it still retains its popularity both with old and young. The parables of the New Testament are so numerous and important, that a few words on the mode of teaching them may be required.
1. The story of the parable must be explained before proceeding to its moral lesson. We require to understand the emblem, in order to understand the thing emblematised. Thus, let our parable be that of the ten virgins, Matt. xxv. 1—13. Before inculcating the lesson of this parable, it will be necessary to give a brief sketch of the marriage customs of the East; to mention that marriages there are often celebrated at night; that the friends of the bridegroom accompany him, in procession, with lamps and torches, to the house of the bride; and that virgins are accustomed to form part of his train.
.2. Most of the parables have one or two great lessons, which should be a guide throughout in teaching them. In the above parable, the chief lesson is the necessity of watchfulness; in the parable of the talents, immediately following, it is our accountability; and in the parable of the good Samaritan, it is our duty to our neighbours. The object of the parable must regulate the remarks made on the several parts of it.
3. A careful study of the several parts of the parable will supply us with the topics by which the main lessons are to be illustrated. The dress of the parable, so to speak, is so closely fitted in to its body, that in the one we see the shape of the other. Thus, in the parable of the ten virgins, we read, "They took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom." We find from this, that at this period there was no observable difference between the foolish and the wise j they all had lamps; they all had them lighted, and they all went forth to meet the bridegroom. In this is evidently depicted the external profession which people make as Christians. The uniformity of their profession is the first topic, then, to be illustrated
In the same way may the second topic be examined— the improvidence of the foolish virgins. We find that "they that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them." Their improvidence appears in this, that while they desired to enter with the bridegroom, they did not take the necessary steps to be prepared. The precise hour, perhaps, was not fixed: in the East they are not so punctual as in this country; and on festive occasions persons are proverbially unpunctual. For these reasons they ought to have provided themselves with oil. In this we see described the character of those whose religion has respect only to the present time ; who have enough of religion to live with, but not enough to die with. This is the second topic of illustration.
4. Care must be taken not to overstrain any part of the parable. One may make too little of the minute circumstances, but the greater danger is to overdo them. We have heard of a person who said, in teaching the parable of the good Samaritan, that one of the pennies which were given to the host signified the active righteousness of Christ, and the other penny his passive righteousness. It would not be easy to imagine anything more absurd.
In most parables there are details introduced for the mere purpose of making the story tell, which have no independent spiritual meaning. Thus, in the parable above noticed, the oil and wine which were poured into the stranger's wounds, mean nothing separately; the act proves the kindness of the Samaritan; and what we are to enforce is, the duty of kindness even to strangers. "Many circumstances," says Boyle, "in Christ's parables, are like the feathers which wing our arrows, which, though they pierce not like the head, but seem slight things, and of a different nature from the rest, are yet requisite to make the shaft to pierce, and do both convey it to, and penetrate the mark."
Good sense, a careful study of the drift of the parable, and of the manner in which Christ explained his own parables, will be our best guides in teaching them. Compare Matt. xiii. 18-23, and 37-43.
It may be noticed that the manner of teaching similes and metaphors, is in all respects similar to the mode of
teaching parables; for a simile, when embodying a moral, is nothing but a condensed parable. Of such are the following : "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path;" "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." In teaching these texts, we require first to explain the simile, and then the truth which it symbolises.