25.These things I have spoken to you in proverbs. The intention of Christ is to give courage to his disciples, that, entertaining good hopes of making better progress, they may not think that the instruction to which they now listen is useless, though there be but little of it that they comprehend; for such a suspicion might lead them to suppose that Christ did not wish to be understood, and that he purposely kept them in suspense. He declares, therefore, that they will soon perceive the fruit of this doctrine, which, by its obscurity, might produce disgust in their minds. The Hebrew word,
משל (mashal) sometimes denotes a proverb; but as proverbs most commonly contain tropes and figures, this is the reason why the Hebrews give the name of
משלים (meshalim) to enigmas or remarkable sayings, which the Greeks call (
ἀποφθέγματα) apophthegms, which have almost always some ambiguity or obscurity. The meaning therefore is, “ think that I now speak to you figuratively, and not in plain and direct language; but I will soon speak to you in a more familiar manner, in order that there may be nothing puzzling or difficult to you in my doctrine.”
We now see what I mentioned a little ago, that this is intended to encourage the disciples by holding out to them the expectation of making greater progress, that they may not reject the doctrine, because they do not yet understand what it means; for, if we are not animated by the hope of profiting, the desire of learning must, unavoidably, be cooled. The fact, however, clearly shows that Christ did not employ terms purposely obscure, but addressed his disciples in a simple and even homely style but such was their ignorance that they hung on his lips with astonishment. That obscurity, therefore, did not lie so much in the doctrine as in their understandings; and, indeed, the same thing happens to us in the present day, for not without good reason does the word of God receive this commendation, that it is our light, (Psa_119:105; 2Pe_1:19;) but its brightness is so obscured by our darkness, that, what we hear we reckon to be pure allegories. For, as he threatens by the prophet, that he will be a barbarian to the unbelievers and reprobate, as if he had a stammering tongue, (Isa_28:11;) and Paul says that
the Gospel is hidden from such persons, because Satan hath blinded their understandings,
so to the weak and ignorant it commonly appears to be something so confused that it cannot be understood. For, though their understandings are not completely darkened, like those of unbelievers, still they are covered, as it were, with clouds. Thus God permits us to be stupefied for a time, in order to humble us by a conviction of our own poverty; but those whom he enlightens by his Spirit he causes to make such progress, that the word of God is known and familiar to them. Such, too, is the import of the next clause:
But the time cometh; that is, the time will soon come, when I shall no more speak to you in figurative language. The Holy Spirit, certainly, did not teach the apostles anything else than what they had heard from the mouth of Christ himself, but, by enlightening their hearts, he drove away their darkness, so that they heard Christ speak, as it were, in a new and different manner, and thus they easily understood his meaning.
But will tell you plainly about the Father. When he says that he will tell them about the Father, he reminds us that the design of his doctrine is to lead us to God, in whom true happiness lies. But another question remains: How does he say, elsewhere, that
it was given to the disciples to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven?
For here he acknowledges that he has spoken to them in obscure language, but there he lays down a distinction between them and the rest of the people, that he speaketh to the people in parables, (Mat_13:13.) I reply, the ignorance of the apostles was not so gross that they had not, at least, a slight perception of what their Master meant, and, therefore, it is not without reason that he excludes them from the number of the blind. He now says that his discourses have hitherto been allegorical, in comparison of that clear light of understanding which he would soon give to them by the grace of his Spirit. Both statements are therefore true, that the disciples were far above those who had no relish for the word of the Gospel, and yet they were still like children learning the alphabet, in comparison of the new wisdom which was bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit.