There is a thing wonderful and admirable in the parables, not readily grasped, but specially indicated by the Lord himself—their unintelligibility to the mere intellect. They are addressed to the conscience and not to the intellect, to the will and not to the imagination. They are strong and direct but not definite. They are not meant to explain anything, but to rouse a man to the feeling, “I am not what I ought to be, I do not the thing I ought to do!” Many meaningless interpretations may be given by the wise, while work goes undone, while the child who uses them for the necessity of walking in the one path will constantly receive light from them. The greatest obscuring of the words of the Lord comes from those who give themselves to interpret rather than do them. It was not for our understanding, but for our will, that Christ came. He who does that which he sees, shall understand; he who is set upon understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and speaking foolishness. The gospel itself, and in it the parables of the Truth, are to be understood only by those who walk by what they find. The Lord did not intend that any should know what, known but intellectually, he would imagine he had grasped. When the pilgrim of the truth comes on his journey to the region of the parable, he finds its interpretation. It is not a jewel to be stored, but a well springing by the wayside.
The Doing and the Knowing
by Dave Roney
“I’m telling you the truth: You won’t get out until you’ve paid the very last cent!
— Matthew 5:26
“Then what is my next duty? What is the thing that lies nearest me?”
“That, I repeat, belongs to your every-day history. No one can answer that question but yourself... —Is there nothing you neglect? Is there nothing you know you ought not to do?... Your duty will begin to comfort you at once, but will at length open the unknown fountain of life in your heart.”
From a conversation with Lady Georgiana, “Robert Falconer,” Part III, Chapter X
In our reading, which introduces the next sermon series, titled “The Last Farthing,” we discover immediately that MacDonald cautions that the wonderful parables of our Lord (which to the untrained eye seem readily perceivable) should be considered in light of their “unintelligibility to the intellect.” Surely they can be understood, after a fashion, by the mind alone, the same being true for all of Scripture; but, as with Scripture, so also the parables are addressed to the conscience, and not the intellect; to the will and not the imagination, as to say they cannot satisfactorily be understood, or “figured out,” by the fancies of analytic thought and interpretation: Our Lord is childlike; His words are, then, also childlike; they are addressed to the children of their Father, both those near and those afar from Him, to every person within hearing. The deepest, widest, highest, expression of thought is not that of the mind but the heart; in His parables our Lord is reaching down through the mind of man to find the source of all his thinking, saying, and doing, to the very wellspring of his life. He does not bypass the mind but enters in through its door to the heart-house of man, his cathedral, the inner sanctum of being. If any person would know what the parables are saying, it shall be known first by the heart and only then the mind.
GMD declares: “The greatest obscuring of the words of our Lord comes from those who give themselves to interpret rather than do them.”
You ask, “What is my next duty? What is the thing that lies nearest me?”
I reply, “It is to do the thing you know to be done; it is to be obedient in every case to all you know to be obedient to, which is to be like Christ Jesus.”
“Who can tell me what that next thing to do is?”
“ No one can answer that question but yourself.”
“But how will I know what to do?”
“You will only know by doing it; God never makes revelation to a man but that the man is not firstly obedient, or at the least is willing to be obedient.”
“If any man wills to do God's will,” says the Lord, “he will know whether the instruction is [or is not] from God.” —the order is without variation to first, through obedience, do, and when a man wills to do the Will he will then know as much as he needs or is able in order to accomplish the will of God for him. “He who does that which he sees, shall understand; he who is set on understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and speaking foolishness.” By “sees” is meant, I think, to see by the light of the Spirit of God as He leads us in ways we do not know, in ways of obedience that our intellects could never understand, and which, by any mere human analysis, might seem to be incomprehensibly wrong; for instance, daily Self-crucifixion, the selfless sacrificial life lived by the child of God, himself becoming a living sacrifice, a state of being run absolutely contrary to the world's values. Ferguson's words ring true: “Be obedient even when you do not know where obedience will lead you.”
“When the pilgrim of the truth comes on his journey to the region of the parable, he finds its interpretation.” The pilgrim is no slacker, not one with idle hands and feet, but one in motion, on a journey; he is the one who is doing for his Lord and, by his childlike obedience, and by coming to the parable, “finds its interpretation,” which is to say “knows its meaning.” Though he be alone (or think himself alone) in this knowledge, which may run contrary to the counsel of the wise, he knows it as God knows it, and that is enough for him. On his roadway he comes to the parable; it is no dulled gemstone for him to put in any proud pocket of his faculty, by which he can rear up pompous, as a grand dispenser of over-lording wisdom to his peers, but begins to flesh his dry bones, giving strength in sinews and hands, and a heart that bleeds and pants after God, that he might in compassion reach to the poor, the broken, the bedraggled brother and sister, to lift them up and set them on their feet if he can. To, as a priest after the high priesthood of Christ, open the very gates of Heaven itself.
There is herein no starched collar of religiosity about his neck, no outward sign of his superiority over any other, it is the Light shining through the shade which is his flesh that men shall see, and by which they shall be led into more light; from this man's heart gushes streams of living water, filled with the luminescent glow of life eternal, a fountain erupting into the darkened air, falling down on the lives of those without either light or water for their souls. Where is the wisdom of men, of this world? There is only one good, wise, God! The parables are understood only by the doing of them; and the man who knows them witnesses this knowing by his doing, his living, his very life poured out in obedience.
In Shakespeare's “Hamlet” he has Polonius saying to Laertes:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
How will I be true to myself? It is only by surrendered will in obedience to God; and inherent in that surrender is to do the will of God for me in my life; for obedience always implies doing. Only in this way can a man be true to himself; and if a man is thus true, he shall also be true to his fellows; it is the will of God. “It was not for our understanding,” says MacDonald, “but for our will, that Christ came.”
There shall follow eight commentaries written for each of the forthcoming daily readings from “The Last Farthing.” I have not here, in this introduction to the series, attempted to deal with the actual parable around which the readings are built; with great anticipation I await what my brothers and sisters shall describe of the profound thought and rich beauty awaiting us! For today, and following what I perceived to be MacDonald's form, I have made attempt merely to set the stage for the parable of “the uttermost farthing,” to show in some small way how it is to be understood when we arrive at it.
This, as all of our Lord's parables, is “...not meant to explain anything but to rouse in us the feeling 'I am not what I ought to be, I do not the thing I ought to do'.” Let us enter into this parable driven sermon with deepest contrition and Christlike humility, knowing that our last owed farthing is to become the very living image on earth of Him Who loves us, and washed us, and continues to wash us, in His own precious blood...