It is seldom that a chapter of the word is so isolated that we can give the exposition of it without taking account of the connection with what precedes and what follows. There are some which contain a single subject developed enough for us to be able to consider it separately. Sometimes, even a single verse presents some feature of the precious Saviour which may supply matter for meditation during many blessed hours. But to unfold the ideas which are presented in a chapter, it is always necessary to consider it in relation to those things with which, according to the intention of the Spirit, it is connected. This is what I shall endeavour to do with regard to the chapter before us.
This Gospel may be called the gospel of the kingdom. That is, it relates the history and discourses of Christ, specially with a view to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven. This thirteenth chapter reveals to us the mysteries of the kingdom.
Let us consider the position in which the revelation of the kingdom was found when the Lord pronounced it; in other words, what were its relations to the Jewish people at that time. With this object, let us review a little the contents of this Gospel.
In the first chapter we find, after the plan of Genesis, Numbers and Chronicles, the genealogy of the royal family, and the two great stems with which the promises were bound up, and from which Christ descended: David and Abraham. The promises were made to the seed of each. The miraculous conception of Jesus, according to the predictions of scripture, is then related.
Next, in the second chapter, we are told of this royal birth (a subject of alarm to Herod, who was in the enjoyment of the Jewish royalty), as well as of testimony and joy to the ends of the earth; the flight of Jesus into Egypt and His return; and in all these circumstances the fulfilment of the prophecies is established.
In the following chapter (3) the approach of the kingdom of heaven is announced. The prophet warns the people of the wrath to come, from which it was necessary to flee; of the axe which was laid to the root of the trees; then he announces that God was seeking fruits, and that it would be useless to boast of being a child of Abraham, if one produced none. Jesus subjects Himself to the condition of the Jews and receives at the same time the testimony that He is the Son of God. His subjection and humiliation, and the testimony thereupon rendered, and rendered to Himself respecting the glory of His person, are here profoundly instructive.
In chapter 4, Jesus, thus identified in humiliation with the Jews, and owned as the Son of God by the Father, undergoes the temptation of the enemy who must be conquered and bound, as the strong man, if one would spoil his goods; a temptation suited to the circumstances in which the Messiah stood. Satan seeks to turn the Lord aside from the path of obedience, by urging Him to make use of His glory, or to take it according to His will, and as being Himself in subjection to Satan; by His natural wants, as hunger; by His privileges, that is to say, the promises which had been made to Him (His Jewish privileges or those of Messiah, according to Psalm 91); and by glory in the world, a glory indeed which He will really possess as the gift of God hereafter, even “all the kingdoms of the world”; and all this by prevailing upon Him to deviate from the path of obedience on which He had entered. But in vain. Then Jesus begins, after John is put in prison, to preach the approach of the kingdom, His abode in the place described in Isaiah 9 giving place to the foretold difference between the last afflictions of the Jews and all those which preceded the manifestation of the light of Messiah.2 He preaches the gospel of the kingdom and confirms His doctrine, and gives testimony to the glorious truth of His presence, by miracles of goodness which announced the visitation of the God of Israel.
Having thus attracted the attention of the multitudes, He unfolds the principles of the kingdom and the effect of the testimony which was to be rendered to Him (chaps. 5-7). Observe, there is no question here about redemption. There is the spirituality of many parts of the law, or rather the application made by Jesus of His ordinances to the heart as well as to acts, and the introduction of the name of the Father as the motive, principle and rule of conduct. Israel is here, as it were, on the way, in danger of being given up to the judge if he agrees not with his adversary. It is the light of heaven which shines on the conduct of men, by means of Him who came from heaven.
In chapter 8, before the historical dealings with Israel, we have an introductory display of the power come in and its effects. It was Jehovah cleansing the leper or leprosy in Israel, and sending the cleansed one to the priests. It was, since it was Jehovah, that which reached in power over the limits of Israel and shewed that, while Gentiles would come in from east and west, the children of the kingdom would be thrust out. Next He was come down in gracious participation in all their sorrows and infirmities; but hence withal, having no place amongst men; but in the midst of the tossings and heavings through which those who were content to identify themselves with this rejected One for His own sake must pass, they were secure by that very fact in all, in the same boat with Him who was there in divine power and counsels, however low He might be come. This was the place of the remnant. As to the others, they would turn Him away; but Israel, left to the power of Satan, would rush as unclean headlong to destruction. Such is the whole history of the coming of Messiah, Jehovah, Jesus. Note here, we have not the demoniac sent back to tell of the power which had healed him. For it is the ministry of the Lord which is pointed out, and its course, reception and effect. Hence this is the connection of these events in order to present the history of the Lord’s presenting Himself. It is in a certain sense complete in itself.
In chapter 9 He continues to labour personally in the ministry of the kingdom. Acknowledged as the Son of David by the blind men, and received by the multitudes with admiration, He is accused by the jealousy of the Pharisees of casting out devils by the prince of the devils; but the time of grace towards this poor people was not yet over. When Jesus sees the multitudes, He has compassion upon them; they were as sheep without a shepherd.
In chapter 10, as the Lord of the vineyard, He sends His disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” to declare to them that the kingdom was at hand; a prefiguration (so to speak) of the transmission of this ministry to His disciples, when He should have been Himself rejected. But there is no question of any but Israel. They were not to go into the way of the Gentiles. Nevertheless, on account of this general mission, the Lord, in His directions and encouragements, expresses Himself in a manner which might serve them as a guide in all circumstances wherein they might be found, whether in their actual mission, or during His absence from the earth: still, He regards their mission simply as a mission to Israel, whether then, or even at the last times. They were not to have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man should have come. The capture of Jerusalem has deferred that event until God resumes His labours towards Israel.
The Lord, resuming His labours of love, recounts, on the occasion of the arrival of the disciples of John, all the history of that work among the Jews (chap. n). John Baptist, himself, takes the place of a disciple instead of that of a prophet, and the Lord bears testimony to him, instead of receiving testimony from him. The kingdom of heaven, instead of being established in power, being rejected, is invaded by violence only, in defiance of difficulties and the opposition of men; for the Jews, whether one had lamented or piped to them, had not responded to the testimony of God. The rejection of Jesus, a rejection which He accepts with entire submission, is explained by this: only the Father could know the Son, and only the Son could reveal the Father. The Messiah disappears, so to speak, in His glory too pure for man to receive. But grace only springs up in greater abundance, and all things having been delivered to the Son, it is no longer a question about the Messiah of the Jews. He invites all those who are “weary and heavy laden” to come to Him. It is a chapter of the highest interest.
Hereupon in chapter 12 the Lord breaks with the Jews decidedly. He is Lord of the sabbath given as a sign of the covenant with them, the Lord in grace, but still Lord. The Pharisees seek to kill Him. He hides Himself, and the light of the Gentiles begins to dawn in the testimony of God. Acknowledged anew by an astonished people as the Son of David, the Pharisees put the seal to their iniquity and their condemnation, in again attributing His works to the power of the prince of the devils. Thereupon Jesus pronounces their judgment: the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is not pardoned. The sign asked for by the perverse generation is refused them: there shall no other sign be given them than the sign of the prophet Jonas. Even the people of Nineveh and the queen of the South shall condemn them, and at last the unclean spirit that had gone out of the people shall return into them with other more wicked spirits, and its last state shall be worse than the first.3 Such will be the end of the generation that rejected the Saviour. Thereupon He renounces the ties of nature which connected Him, as the Messiah after the flesh, with this people, and acknowledges no other relationship than obedience to His Father.
This rapid sketch of the contents of these twelve chapters of the precious revelation of God will shew us the importance of the position of chapter 13, at which we are now arrived, and which is to occupy us more particularly. It is based on the rejection of the Son of man, the Messiah, by the self-righteousness of Israel; and, in fact, on the judgment passed on the latter in consequence of this rejection of the Heir of the promises.
Wherefore, addressing Himself the same day to the multitudes, Jesus appears as no more seeking fruit. It was no longer a question of His vine or His fig-tree. He sows—He is a sower. He finds nothing: He brings with Him that which by His grace may spring and produce fruit. He fully distinguishes His disciples; to them it is given to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, which is not granted to the multitudes whose heart is made fat. He speaks to them in parables—a precious light for the remnant led of God; darkness to the people led of their own blindness.
Here, then, the Lord takes the place of a sower, and the word falls, here and there, on every kind of ground. But, having taken this character, it is no longer a question about the Jews merely (there one would have sought fruit), but, in principle, about every hearer of the word. However, we have not here the unity of the church, the body of Christ, in heaven, but His work on earth; and then, after that, the forms which the kingdom and the judgment connected with it, on the earth, should take. I would not say that the consequences of that would not go further, but herein is contained the subject of this chapter. It was sowing time, because there was nothing. Every individual that heard bore fruit according to the nature of the ground where the seed fell. For here we have, not the secrets of the efficacy of the grace of God, but the responsibility of man, and the outward effects that would follow in consequence of the work wrought in this world. Thus the word was “the word of the kingdom,”—the testimony borne to the rights of Christ by the grace of God—the proclamation of the establishment of the authority of God on the earth—in grace it might be, but still requiring the subjection of man. The kingdom thus proclaimed had a moral character, because it was the kingdom of God, having precious promises and a security which was beyond all price. But it was, at the same time, the kingdom of the heavens whose authority was to be established over the earth, the government of God here below, and His work in respect of this government; and not the church united to Christ in heaven.
Still, in this first parable the Lord does not present a similitude of the kingdom of the heavens, although the word was “the word of the kingdom,” because here the question is not about the effects and results of the seed generally, under the government of God, but about the fact of the sowing and the individual result, according to the ground where the seed fell. As far as the work of the sower was concerned, it was an affair of individuals. The result would be a whole, which would indeed require a work of separation, but which was nevertheless meanwhile a whole. The work did not adopt the Jewish corporality as its ground; it did not acknowledge the ancient vineyard. A sower sowed, and each grain, so to speak, had such or such an effect in the heart where it fell. Herein there was an important point in the work, or in the preaching of the kingdom; individuality and individual responsibility.4 This was a principle, moreover, always true, but which the work itself brought out,—which was at the root of the work, because God and man were fully manifested. It was not merely a question about the government of a people; but the first principle, the basis of Christianity, was to be that each one should bear his own burden. Grace unites those who have received this seed with good effect, for the life is common and the Spirit is one. Still, each one receives for himself, and cannot withdraw himself from his own responsibility in that respect; a responsibility which has reference, not only to his moral conduct as a man, but to the reception of the testimony which the activity of the love of God comes to scatter, like seed among men, upon the heart. The principle of individual responsibility was ever true for the purpose of eternal judgment, and must be so if God is judge! He will judge every man; nevertheless, it was not the principle on which the Jewish system was based here below; but, after the rejection of the Messiah by this people, this principle was brought out, and connected itself with the only thing which remained as a ground of relationship between God and man; namely, the testimony of His love and the revelation of His claims upon the heart.
I forbear to enter deeply into the meaning of this first parable, not because it is unimportant (far from it), but only because I think it must have been so often dwelt upon, both in public and in private, in the presence of the readers of these pages, that it is hardly necessary. The only thing that I will repeat here is, that what we have presented is not a doctrinal explanation of the origin of good, but the actual work, and its actual result under the responsibility of man—the facts of the new dispensation, and not the counsels of God.
That which distinguishes the good ground, as far as the reception of the word is concerned, is a man’s understanding the word. In the contrary case, strictly speaking, he does not understand it: in the two other cases, there is the appearance of it, but no fruit: here one regards nothing but fruit.
Thus far, we have only “the word of the kingdom.” In the six following parables we have similitudes of the kingdom itself, or the forms which the kingdom takes after the rejection of the king on the earth, and in consequence of the word being sown. It is easy to distinguish them into two parts; namely, the three first and the three last with the explanation of one of the first. The former are addressed to the multitudes; the latter, to the disciples apart. The former, it seems to me, present to us the exterior of the kingdom in the world, its state such as the world views it, without absolutely pronouncing the judgment of God thereupon. They are historical, as we have already seen. The latter give us the thoughts and intentions of God in the kingdom which exists here, and the result of this external whole. The efficacy of grace is never touched upon in this chapter; it is a history and not an explanation of doctrine.5
It will be remarked that we find here, as in many other places, when the Spirit would present to us some general view of the thoughts of God, the perfect number of seven, divided, as is generally the case, into four and three—four parables addressed to the multitudes, and three to the disciples.
I have said that the three first parables present to us the exterior, the aspect of the kingdom towards the world; but that does not prevent a spiritual man discerning the principles which are there at work, nor his judging them according to the mind of God; on the contrary, it is what we ought constantly to do, in order to walk rightly according to the wisdom of God.
However, I shall chiefly concern myself with the explanation of that which occurs in the parable itself. The first idea which is presented to us of the kingdom thus described in these mysteries, is a work done in a field by its owner; but all that he does now is to sow the good seed there. The work which he has wrought may fail in its general result, in the field, although the seed cannot be changed; and this is what comes to pass.
While men sleep, the enemy of Him who sows the good seed and to whom the field belongs, comes to sow tares; and the field, or the beauty of the harvest, is spoilt. The owner of the field leaves those two things to bear their proper fruits. He to whom the field belonged had done His work; the enemy had done his, while men slept; then he also went his way: the effect was a sad mixture in the world, of which men might accuse the owner of the field; but the thing being manifested by its effects (for it had been done in secret) the servants discover it when it becomes public. The master explains to the servants who come to Him and receive their instruction from Him, that it is the work of the enemy, and that the harvest, as far as the world is concerned, will be spoiled. At the time of the harvest He will apply a remedy, that is to say, at the time of the judgment, which will make a distinction in the field between the good and the bad. It was not the servants’ business to destroy the tares. They were not the executioners of the world’s judgment, and the time itself was not yet come.
The kingdom only being established by sowing here below during the absence of the king, and not in power, and consequently by judgment, the confusion resulting therefrom would be the sad character of the kingdom, until it should be established in power, and the judgment should put an end to the disorder produced by Satan.
Compare here the manner in which the Lord presents His ways with the account of the seed in Mark 4:26. The kingdom of God is as if a man, after having cast seed into the ground, should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow, he knows not how; for the earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear; and when the corn is ripe, immediately they put in the sickle, because the harvest is ready. During the time of the mixture, and while the corn is not yet ripe, no judgment takes place; if it did, it might root out of the world the unripe corn.
An attempt has been made to confound all this with church discipline; but the subject is different. The question is not about the church or discipline, but about the kingdom and about judgment to be exercised on the evil which Satan has introduced among the good corn.6
As for discipline, properly so called, that is always exercised on corn, and that not with a view to rooting it up, but curing it and even restoring it here below, if possible. The incestuous man was given up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord. In fact, he was restored on earth, because he repented. It is not my intention to pursue this subject, but to expound the parables. I have only referred to it for the purpose of saying, that the two subjects have not one idea in common. We may here observe also how the Lord regards the kingdom and everything in it as a whole, from the beginning to the end of it.
In fine, that which we have revealed is, that the effect of Satan’s work where Christ had sown the children of the kingdom, that is, this state of things on the earth, must remain till the harvest. The tares are not simply unconverted men; they are persons whom Satan has brought in, under the form of Christianity, to spoil God’s harvest in the earth—in the place where Christianity was established. It was not the church in heaven, it was not churches gathered in certain localities; these ideas are not found here. They are the children of the kingdom, regarded as plants of God in this world, but who are found in the place where Satan had power to sow his own seed. The effect, apparently not to the honour of the owner, is explained for those who learn from Him. The judgment will explain it to such as will not be taught.
As regards the judgment, the parable states that there is a time of harvest, and not the harvest merely. At that time the tares are first gathered and bound in bundles for the purpose of being burnt, the corn is laid up in the granary.7
Generally speaking, the judgment or the harvest, such as it is presented in the parable itself, does not go beyond that which is manifested in this world. The tares are gathered for the purpose of being burnt: that is all; this is what is proper to the earth. The only thing which goes beyond what is external here below is the fact that the wheat is gathered into barns. It is a negative fact—the wheat no longer belongs to the field: that which takes place in the barn does not appear. God interposes by means of the reapers to bind the tares in bundles (not heathen or unconverted men as such, but the wicked ones of Christendom, at least of the place where the good seed was sown) and He quite removes His own people from the scene. The natural state of the tares is destroyed, but it is not removed from the field. This then is the result in this world, the field which belongs to Christ, the sowing which He has performed.
The second parable presents to us the kingdom during this period. Of the small grain of seed, such as it was at the beginning, there is formed a great power in the earth, so that men seek its protection, sheltering themselves under its branches. For the explanation of this symbol, compare Ezekiel 17:23, also 31; Daniel 4:10, 12, 14.
The third presents it to us, not in its outward, secular power, but as a principle or doctrine which spreads and completely pervades that which is submitted to its influence. It is not here the heart, or the world, but the kingdom established in this world. The idea of the doctrine of Christ, in other words, His name, must spread.
A certain definite sphere is submitted to its influence, and entirely filled with the profession of the name of Christ. I see here that the particular subject in hand is the existence within certain limits of the external profession of the doctrine or the name of Christ. These parables, as it seems to me, have no reference to spiritual good, neither is it the purpose of them to present the dark side of that which has come to pass. They are, as we have said, historical. A spiritual perception, perhaps cultivated and improved by other passages of scripture, may enable me to see that a secular power, like Nebuchadnezzar or the Assyrian, is not a good thing, when the question is about what Christ has established and about my spiritual standing; but here the matter is presented to us as an historical fact; the kingdom, was to receive such a character.
The word leaven, in general, does not suggest the idea of good to one who is familiar with the scriptures; but the purpose of the parable is to state the fact of the general existence of the external profession of the name of Christ, leaving it to the spiritual discernment of the child of God to judge of that which so exists.
We now come to the explanations given to the disciples, and to the parables which were for their ears only. Here the seed is not properly the word; it is the children of the kingdom brought into the world by Christ, who have their life—their moral existence—from Him. We sow the word; but here the great fact is, that the Son of man brings His own into the world; it is a work which He begins. The vineyard being rejected, He does not look for that in the world which was not found in Israel. He introduces, but in the world, His own, because it was all over for the time, at least with Israel. When He has done that, Satan does the same; active in evil, on the ground where good has been done.
Israel, the people of God, is become wicked, and, led by the prince of this world, they reject their Saviour, their Messiah. God being thereupon active in good in the world, Satan assumes an attitude of active hostility. To spoil the effect here below, is all he can do. But the judgment takes effect upon it: the harvest is the end of the age, the reapers are the angels; for the question here is about the government of this world by God. As to the expression “this age” we are accustomed to apply it to the church; but it is not here a question of the church, but of the introduction of the kingdom of heaven, Messiah being rejected by the Jews. What was the age in which the Lord was found with His disciples? Was it the church, or the dispensation of the church? By no means. It was a certain age of this world, which was to end by the reception of the Messiah, and the re-establishment of the law as a rule by the government of this Messiah. The people of Israel having rejected Him, this age becomes purely and simply this present evil world (age), from which Christ delivers us, but in the course of which God has set up His kingdom, in the way we have just spoken of.
The final close of the age is suspended while these acts are in progress, but at last its end arrives. Then the Son of man (for here the world is concerned, not merely the Jews and their Messiah) will purge His kingdom of all things that offend, and of them that commit iniquity, and they shall be cast into the furnace of fire. That will be the judgment of everything that is opposed to the glory of Christ, when He will execute it. But here He appears as the Head of the providential government of God, not as the Bridegroom coming to seek His bride, nor as the King coming to reign in Israel, or over the Gentiles in immediate relationship with them. It is the Son of man, supreme Head of the government of God, who sends the angels of His power to purge His kingdom, long defiled by the presence of the children of the wicked one, of everything that offends.8 It is an act of His own power, acting as from on high; it is not the servants who will execute it. He sends His own messengers to gather the tares and cast them into the fire. He does not Himself enter into the earthly kingdom already established. He acts as from on high by His messengers, and the righteous are not established and blessed in the marred kingdom, but they shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.9
This, then, is the result of the kingdom having been defiled by means of the work of the enemy; the judgment is the answer to the absence of all judgment in the kingdom, in the interval between the sowing time and the harvest. It is neither the joy of the church nor the establishment of the throne of judgment over the earth, but the purification of the kingdom, the general idea of government from on high. The servants had thought of re-establishing here below, by rooting the wicked out of the world, the order of things which existed then at the commencement, that the field here below might be in accordance with the intention of Him who had sown; or, in other words, that the field that He had sown should be a just representation of His labour and His thoughts; but this was not what was to take place there—this was no longer possible.
It is a matter of further revelation, that then the righteous (and it seems to me that the term is not necessarily limited to those who had lived after the seed of the kingdom had been sown) will shine as the sun in the kingdom of the Father. This then is the reason why there was no question in the meanwhile of purifying the field here below. God had better counsels in store for us. It is a revelation which belongs to the disciples. The rest was the public government of God, intelligible, or what ought to have been intelligible, to a Jew.
The succeeding parables present to us rather the secrets of the kingdom—that which only concerns the initiated, the disciples. It was no longer that which was merely external for the multitudes which surrounded Him. In what was said to the multitudes, everything took place in the world, that is to say, in the field, with the exception of the one fact that the good seed would be taken from it and hid in the barn. All belonged, properly speaking, to this age, unless we may except the existence of the barn. But in the explanation of this first parable, the Lord goes beyond what He had said, passes the limit, so to speak, and shews us the terrible result of the judgment of the tares in the weeping and gnashing of teeth: then He raises the curtain on the other side also, and the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. But this throws an entirely new light on the principle of the kingdom. It is a motive to action wherever this revelation is understood, and wherever we act according to the understanding of this purpose of God.
It is no longer a question how to establish clearly the relations between the old system and the forms which it took after the rejection of Christ, or on account of the barren state of the vineyard; but how to comprehend the effect of the counsels of God, which went much farther. There was something there to influence the heart. We have before had the effects here below of the sowing: the fact of the mixture, and the separation, and the form which in consequence of that the kingdom took in the world; here we have the revelation to the disciples of the effect outside the world, and consequently the motive which directed him who had understanding in the kingdom (it was this that characterised the kingdom in this respect); lastly, the discernment which knew how to act, even in the circumstances of this confused state of the kingdom, and not only the fact of this confusion in the world. That explains the order of the parables. In the two cases, the historical part for the multitude gives the sowing and the divine judgment at the end (this is all that the mind of the multitude takes notice of); and after that, the great historical facts, the tree and the leaven.
But here we have the motive which governs and influences the man who has the mind of Christ—in the first place, Christ Himself and us by His Spirit—in regard to that which has been revealed within the veil; then the separation made with discernment when the net is full. It is not a case of sowing seed, which issues in a mingled crop left in its natural state till the time of God’s acting. It is an activity, the result of understanding and motive, based on the discovery of a hidden thing, or on the perception and search of a loveliness that is appreciated, and which is worth the giving up of all; or on the need of having separated, and so united together, those who constituted the sole object of all the toil, and who previously had been mingled in the net with that which was worth nothing to the fishers.
The one part presents the exterior, on which God will certainly act at last, but which is left as a picture in its complete character before the eyes of the world: a great tree, a leaven which leavens the whole mass. The other, the intelligence and activity of the Spirit of Christ, which gives up everything, and perceives good things to seize upon them in giving up all else.
Now, the first principle, the general principle of the two first of these three parables, based, as I have said, on the revelation of the glory of the righteous, made in the explanation of the first of the three former, is the energy which renounces everything on account of the discovery of that which becomes of inestimable value to the soul. This would not have been the character of the kingdom, if it had been established among the Jews; there were principles and a conduct which would have suited it. Its authority would have been exercised for the maintenance of good and justice, and great happiness would have been the fruit of its establishment. But the kingdom, once rejected by those who were the children of it, was no longer of this world, and it became necessary for one to give up everything that he possessed, according to the discovery made of the glory, which thereupon belonged to the faithful in the kingdom of their Father. This glory causes a renunciation of everything in order to possess it, according to the counsels of God, of which He has made a discovery in the revelation of this treasure—the church, properly so called. Christ Himself did so, and even in two different ways.
He gave up everything, He emptied Himself to accomplish this work and buy the church. But again, of how great value to Himself and for God must the church, thus brought to glory before Him, have been, that He should quit the glory of His Father, His bosom, to have and to bring back His church with Him! In effect, it was because it was infinitely precious to the Father, and because He wished to have it before Him holy and without blame, that the Son, according to His love for the Father, gave Himself for it, the Father having entrusted to Him this work, and the church itself, that He might bring it to Him; for if the Father loves the Son, and has delivered all things to Him, so also the Son has given His life, that the world may know that He loves the Father, and that as the Father has given Him commandment, so He does. For He came to do His Father’s will.
Still, as royal Heir of the kingdom, lawful and perfect Head, according to God, of the Jews, the people of God, and heirs of the promises according to the flesh, it was necessary for Him to give up all that, even this peculiar height of exaltation. He could weep over Jerusalem, whose children He would so often have gathered. He could understand the value of whatever was glorious in that situation. He could feel all the force of those words: “thou hast lifted me up and cast me down,” Ps. 102. Nevertheless, for the joy of possessing the church, this fair and precious creation of the Father in grace and light, this jewel of the light of God, this expression of the thoughts of the Father in grace, witness during the ages to come of the grace which it has received (and that because it is the reflection of it)—for the joy, I say, which followed upon the discovery of this treasure which was not of the world, but of God, in the light, He gave up all He possessed among the Jews; He looked upon all else as nothing.
Answering perfectly to the thought of God His Father, in regard of that which was the glorious object of the love of God, a creation not external to Himself as Creator, but formed to be before Him, according to His nature which He had communicated to it as far as was possible, Christ—who had emptied Himself indeed, but who answered not the less on that account but so much the more to the whole thought of the Father, gave up everything to fulfil the will of the Father and to possess Himself of this treasure. So the kingdom takes this character. It is in Christ that we see it, even this reflection of the nature of the Father, for He is not only by grace (a creative and communicative grace) but essentially the reflection and the image of the glory of the invisible God. He is morally the manifestation of it in all things, and beyond that, inasmuch as all the Godhead dwells in Him bodily. Thus we also, for the sake of Christ glorified before the Father, for this glory which we shall have with Him, when we shall be like Him, seeing Him as He is, but which henceforth we see in Him—we also renounce everything now. (Compare Phil. 3:7, 8.) Still it is Christ who has given us the example of it, by devotedness to His Father; Paul was only a weak imitator of Him who inspired him, and had supplied him with the perfect model of that devotedness.
But then Christ, however He might renounce His earthly glory and rights could not yet possess the church all pure and glorious as being His peculiar property, separate to Himself. He must take it in the world; but that does not hinder Him, He places it there and buys the whole field. But the treasure is His object, and is sufficient to engage Him to take the whole field; for the subject here is not the beneficent government which shall be established over the world, when the judgments which will have purified it will have been executed, but of something which He takes for the sake of the treasure which is hid there. Elsewhere, in the prophets we see all the blessings which will flow from His reign (the church, the new Jerusalem, being glorified, so that the nations will walk in its light), blessings which will be the effect of the public administration of the kingdom of the Son of man. But here we have the mysteries of this kingdom presented to a spiritual understanding.
But, first of all, let us notice here: Where these revelations of the secrets of the kingdom take place; Where this joy which is motive sufficient to cause Him who possesses it to give up all, which causes Him to feel that all is loss in comparison with this glory; Where this discernment which can so perceive the beauty of the pearl of great price, as to enable us to understand that we gain everything in giving up everything;—this discernment, whereby the spiritual understanding, which can judge all things, perceives that to keep anything else is only to hinder the possession of that which this divine intelligence tastes and appreciates, and which decides thus in the full knowledge of the case. The choice is made, the nature which seeks pearls has found the pearl which suits it. Where is the place, I say, that these revelations, which excite and satisfy this divine nature, take place? It is “in the house” they were made known to the disciples who followed Jesus, who were attached to Him. They followed Him already, they followed Him in separation; in separation they received that from which belonged to Him, as being Himself in separation from the world. The multitude does not receive them.
Let us come to the application, or rather to the explanation, followed by the parable of the treasure hid in the field. We have here the secret thought of God. The subject is not properly that external character of the kingdom, but the inward thought of Him who is acting there. Christ Himself has taken to Himself a field, but for one who understands His thought—is the field His object in taking it now? No; it is the treasure in it. There is that which fills His heart, and which was the motive to that which He did. God gave Him power over all men, that He might give eternal fife to all those whom the Father had given to Him. I would not be understood by that to say that all men are the field, but only to shew how there could be two thoughts in the counsels of God.
In the kingdom of heaven a field has been purchased. In appearance perhaps, the field is the object which the purchaser had in view. Christ has the right of possession over this field; His authority should be acknowledged there, because He has purchased it; but the joy of His heart, His object in all that, is the treasure (the church) which is hid there. That which was purchased by Christ and which belongs visibly to Him, there where His name is externally acknowledged in the times of the mysteries of the kingdom, that which is His right, and which the understanding of man might recognise as the purchase which He made, that which is as a field which a man bought, is not what He has at heart, for He thinks of the treasure which is hidden there. It is the form which the kingdom has taken.
He cannot yet possess the church, all pure, removed to heaven to reign with Him. In the meanwhile, it is in the world; and the kingdom takes the character of a whole which, in appearance and by right, is a lordship, a possession which belongs to Christ, but of which the secret and the real object is only known to those who have the mind of Christ. He has taken the field for the sake of the treasure,10 but it is the treasure quite pure as it is known to Himself that He has at heart. The ministry of Peter did not yet distinguish the two, although he and all the saints after him made part of the purchased treasure. Peter had the keys of the kingdom. Paul was converted by the doctrine of the union of Christ and the church attached to Him in glory; he did not know Christ after the flesh.
This is what His disciples must understand, when they see that which is as a possession that has accrued to Christ, that which belongs to Him. His disciples would understand what was the real object of His heart, and would clearly distinguish between the field and the treasure which it contained, although the treasure or the church being for the time hid in the field, the administration of the government of God must take this outward form.11
Moreover, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls. Here we see the Lord judging, according to His perfect intelligence, the moral beauty of that which He would have for Himself at any price. It is not here merely the joy of possessing a treasure, but of discriminating and valuing the treasure which He sought and which He was able to prize and distinguish from every other. Thus the Spirit of Christ in its actual operation only rests definitely upon the church, and that not in the joy of possessing it only, nor of that of accomplishing salvation in the redemption of it, but in the accomplishment of all the thoughts of God, of all that moral beauty which can have its source in the heart and reproduce itself for Him in that church which He gave to Christ. The epistle to the Ephesians in particular presents to us this thought: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and without blame before Him in love. This is its reproducing itself in grace. And what is the calling according to which we ought to walk? It is that we are “the habitation of God by the Spirit.” He has given us a place which is to the praise of the glory of His grace.
The more we examine this epistle, and the more we comprehend the thought of God which appears there, the more we shall perceive the pearl which is of great price in the esteeem of the merchantman who alone is capable of estimating it. The repetition of the emphatic word Himself, His own will, etc., which occurs in the Greek, gives additional force to this remark.12 What thoughts, then, ought we to have, my brethren, of such a calling of the church, and of the church itself, thus before God, such as He can have before Himself, and find satisfaction therein, and find again His own thoughts in it, that it may be the delight of Him who is Himself the only source of that which can be suitable to Him, and that it may be fit to be ever before Him! But, in order to receive it, in order to give it to Christ, it was necessary that He should make it such. What a thought for us! In order that we might enjoy it, He gave us the Spirit itself, and of His own Spirit. Compare Ephesians 3:16-21; see also 1 John 4:13. In this latter passage, the subject is an individual—his state, and the practical proof resulting from it. But there is yet another idea for us to bring out, and which causes this to explain the state of the kingdom; it is, that Christ stripped Himself of everything, in order to possess this treasure. Where is His glory, His kingdom, His judgment, His power?
The kingdom has not one of these characters; but we, disciples, we know Christ, who, though He was rich, became poor for us, that we by His poverty might be made rich. He is hid in God. The epistle to the Ephesians speaks of these counsels of God in regard to us, of these counsels so precious for us. Here we have the same idea, but the idea of the kingdom lost in that of grace. Christ loves the treasure, He prizes the pearl. He is Himself not merely the reflection, but the perfect expression of what the Father was. He knows how to present to Himself the church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. The pearl is in His thought before He finds it as the object of His love. But then He is presented here as a man who finds, not as God who creates and who is the source of the beauty of the object found, as His thoughts are the prototype of it, of the beauty which suits the finder and the Creator.
Although the church is of God in its existence and its beauty, we must also take account of that which Christ has done, according to the counsels of God, according to the fulness of His desire, and the delight which He takes in these counsels. He gives Himself up to that, and strips Himself of everything, in order to possess the church, such as it is according to the thought of God; and, to the disciple who has understanding, this is the character which the kingdom takes. It is Christ’s treasure in this world, in the field which He buys; it is the pearl quite pure, out of whatever shell it may have come, which answers to all that His heart seeks.
Hitherto we have the spiritual intelligence, in order to the understanding of the principle which characterises the kingdom in the thought of Christ, upon which, in consequence, the believer acts, according to the measure of his intelligence. But there is, besides, an actual separation of the elements which are mingled within it. In effect, the net has gathered all kinds of persons out of the sea of peoples. When the net is full, those who have drawn it, the fishermen, sit on the shore; they gather the good into vessels, and throw aside the bad. Here let us pause a moment, because important principles present themselves to our thoughts. The fishermen are occupied about the good: they put them into vessels. As for the bad, they only reject them, and put them aside: there is the effect of the understanding of the fisherman. What is his object? with what does he concern himself? With the good fish. To have them according to his desire and purpose, he must in passing, reject the others, but it is only that he may have the good. Except in this respect, he has nothing to do with the bad—they are not his concern; they are only an encumbrance to him: the net was not cast for them. He gathers the good into vessels. Neither is their ultimate destination his concern: his business is to catch them, and gather them into vessels apart. In this his capacity, his diligence, and the success of his toils, appear. Without these, he could not do it. All this is addressed exclusively to a spiritual mind, without which we cannot understand these instructions. But there is one work, the effects of which will be of necessity intelligible; and as in the exposition of the parable of the tares, we have the additional fact of the glory of the righteous in another sphere—a fact which represented in a good light the seeming negligence that had taken place in the government of the kingdom; so in the explanation of the net, we have a fact which is not in the parable, namely, the judgment of the wicked.
The angels will come forth at the end of the age, and will separate the wicked from among the righteous (they do not here concern themselves with the righteous, as the fishermen did), and they will cast them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is quite clear that this is a procedure quite different from what is related in the parable, and which goes beyond the contents of it. The subject is not the net merely, it is a general and definite separation of the wicked from among the righteous at that time. The fishermen were only concerned with the contents of their net, and with the good found in it. The angels, at the end of the age, separate the wicked; it is a general work; and in this world, where they are mingled, it is not the angels that have to do with the net.
The two things, we should remark well, take place in this world. There is nothing about separating the good and bad in heaven. Neither is there anything here about the great white throne, but about the end of this age. The good which are found in the net will be separated and put in vessels by those who have drawn the net to shore, according to their discernment of the good and bad; then the angels will take the bad in this world, and separate them from the righteous who will be found there, and will cast the former into the furnace of fire. This was not the affair of the fishermen. But the two events take place in the world*, at the end of the age. The angels have nothing to do with the good, but to leave them; while the fishermen occupy themselves with the good, to dispose of them, in rejecting and leaving the bad.
The disciples here are supposed to understand all these things; the Lord looks upon them in this light; they are wise, the understanding ones of Daniel. Wherefore, says He, every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like a householder, who brings out of his treasure things new and old. We see by these words the character of the instructions which the Lord has just given; there is no question about the church as the church. It is true the disciples became part of it afterwards, but He does not look upon them in that character. What we have here is the application of lessons on the kingdom of heaven to knowledge acquired as by scribes in the Old Testament. There is nothing about the mystery hidden and afterwards revealed by the Holy Ghost to the apostles and prophets; but we have light thrown by the kingdom and its mysteries on the promises and the government of God, which a scribe would have found in the law and the prophets. These were new things, but they were connected with the old things; they did not set them aside. If Paul had known Christ after the flesh, he did not know Him so any more. In his case, the subject was things altogether heavenly, even Christ Himself. He notices, it is true, in some digressions, in the way of argument, that which relates to the old things; but as far as his direct ministry is concerned, he knows them no more.
Having completed what I had to say on this chapter, I pause. Others may probably add much to what I have communicated. In every passage of the word there is always the germ of that which is infinite. I only bring forward a general explanation, but I have no doubt of its being of God, certainly mingled with imperfection, but still of God. Another time, if God will, I may send a continuation of the summary of this gospel.
Some think there is an historical order in the parables, an order which I proceed to state without making any comment upon it, as a thought upon which every brother will form an opinion according to the light which he possesses. First, the general fact of the sowing of the word, begun by Jesus Himself; then, as we have seen, the beginning of the mysteries of the kingdom: the Son of man sows the good seed, the enemy does his own work there. The first effect: the hierarchical or ecclesiastico-secular power in the world. The second effect: nominal Christianity, a leaven which only corrupts the whole lump. Then comes the discovery that it is the treasure hid in this field which is precious; those who have spiritual understanding distinguish this treasure, although it is hidden in the field. This would be the Augustinian and Protestant doctrine of an invisible church. But, beyond that, there is the perception of the beauty and purity which become this treasure, and they are sought by those who are led by the Spirit of Christ. Lastly, there is the practical separation of the good fish put into vessels by those who are concerned with that work.
This then is the idea; each Christian, I repeat, will judge of it, according to his measure of spiritual understanding. However it may be, there is yet something to be said on the subject of the great tree and the leaven, in reference to what may be discovered in them by a spiritual mind. The difference between that which is described in these parables, and what is said in the three last, is very remarkable. Here there is no trace of spiritual affection, nor of a taste for divine things, nor of distinction between good and evil. The love of the Spirit is completely missing, and is even lost. I say lost, because at the beginning the servants distinguished between the good seed and the tares, and that perfectly well, and were astonished to find tares in a field where their master had been sowing, although it did not belong to them to execute the judgment on the tares. They were employed near the master, attending to the good condition of the field which belonged to him, but the field could only be cleansed by judgment. Didst Thou not sow good seed in Thy field? (that was their question): from whence then hath it tares? Afterwards, a spiritual understanding perceives that the field is only a secondary object, fully admitting that it was bought; it seeks for the pure and precious pearl, and also separates the good fish and puts them into vessels.
But here it is not that; it is a picture of a dark worldly and outward effect. The attachment to the interests of Christ fails; it is an external matter, a common condition, where nothing appears but what the world can see. We do not say that there are not children of God hidden in this system, or such as have been separated from it; but the Spirit of God takes no account of them in these parables, nor of any spirituality which perceives them, or which distinguishes between that which is agreeable to Christ in His kingdom and the contrary: the result of the work exactly corresponds with the world. We could not (according to these parables) distinguish them: it is “a great tree,” a symbol, throughout scripture, of human power and pride, the objects of God’s judgment.
It is only when Christ will establish His own kingdom in power, that this kingdom will become a great tree in the earth, according to the counsels of God in righteousness. (See Ezekiel 17:22-24.) Meanwhile the event takes place, but as we have seen, with a total absence of spiritual discernment, which contrasts with what precedes and what follows. Also observe, with respect to the leaven: this is not external and earthly power; it is the universal diffusion of a doctrine within certain limits. Here we must remark that it is not the Son of man who sows the good seed, that idea is lost: it is the state of the kingdom which will bear a resemblance to the effect of a woman’s deed who acts thus. Thus there is not any distinction made here between the sowing of the Son of man, and the work of the enemy. If there is good seed, it is quite lost sight of. The parable of the good seed and the tares proves to us that this distinction had been made by the servants of Christ, but all appearance of it is lost; we cannot say that all is good, for the tares must grow till the harvest. All spiritual discernment is therefore completely excluded from this state of things; all true testimony to the work of God is lost; for one cannot say that all is good, that would be the testimony according to the heart of God. All distinction between the good and evil is destroyed; it is one lump, so that this testimony to the difference of good and evil is also lost; and thus evil under the name of Christ is that which presents itself as a uniform mass.
I would not here say that the Holy Spirit designed to present this idea to the multitude. I have already said that these parables speak of what is outward, of the external aspect of the kingdom; but he who studies the word judges according to the mind of Christ of that which is presented thus to the world. There is that which distinguishes the true Christian— the spiritual man discerns all things. He does not think that the lump will be changed, for the spiritual man distinguishes and loves what is good; but the state of the mass does not govern him: he knows for himself that everywhere else the great tree is the symbol of exalted man. Ought man to be exalted before the manifestation of Christ? He knows that leaven everywhere else is the symbol of that which is bad. Has not the history of Christendom supplied that which fully corresponds to such a symbol? If it is so, it is that which according to the Lord characterises the state of the kingdom. In that case, what ought the Christian to do? Ought he to be contented with bearing such a testimony as being Christ’s?
Note.—It is most important for us to remember, that all that, which is the power of death in the unbeliever, is the hindrance and blight of the fruit-bearing power of the believer’s life, to which the energies afforded us in the divine Persons apply themselves. This is brought out into full fight, with its specific remedy, in the graciousness of God in this parable. There is the case of the fowls of the air, the stony ground, the sowing among thorns, and in the good ground, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. The first of these we know is the power of Satan—the power of death. There is no life in the soul. When the word of it is sown in the unbroken heart, the devil takes it away as soon as it is sown; he holds it in unremoved death. The word is the power of life. “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” It is indeed the lie of the devil, by which he brought in death and holds men in it, in which he is a murderer; so on the other hand, by the truth of God are we made alive.
But there is One (Himself indeed the word), who is specifically the quickening power, even the Son of God. “The last Adam is the quickening Spirit.” He then who vindicates from this state of death, and makes alive, is the Son of God. The Son of man sows the seed, but it is the Son of God who quickens; “for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” It is the special distinctive character of His sonship, that He quickens with divine power, as indeed none else could. Compare John 5:21, 24, 26. This is most explicit, and no one acquainted with scripture can have failed to recognise this power of life in the Son of God, as distinctly representing His power and character. He declares Himself, “I am the resurrection and the life “; and this by His word, “Lazarus, come forth.” The results of this we shall not follow; but we have the Son of God, by the word, destroying the works of the devil in the state and power of death. This is the first case of the parable. That which is in Him is the opposite power, which overcomes the evil case mentioned; and a man brings forth thirtyfold, for being really alive he must increase and bring forth fruit.
But there is another case put, not so apparently desperate, but equally destructive—the receiving the word into shallow ground. There was no root. It was received superficially; it speedily “sprang up, became it had no deepness of earth”; it had no searching process of power in which it entered into the conscience and quickened the inner man. It rested in the natural affections and understanding which are after all the flesh; it is received merely by the natural feelings, and therefore immediately acts, and with joy, since it reaches not the conscience; and the same natural feelings were of course as speedily acted on by trouble and persecution, and “immediately they are offended.” Compare Mark 4. This, then, is all merely the flesh, and comes to nothing. To this we know how uniformly the Spirit is opposed. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other.” “They that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; and they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds,” etc. It needs not to multiply passages of scripture to shew the opposition of these two.
But, we must observe that we have here in the Spirit the antagonist power which overcomes the flesh, and assuming a man to be alive, still does so. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit”; hence we know that this case is still the natural man, and that the things of the Spirit are what he has never received, though affections or intellect may have been moved or delighted with the marvellous plan of redemption. But the same point holds good in a believer; that is, we And when men do not walk in the Spirit, of course they are profitless and low in their estate. It is in mortifying the flesh by the Spirit, that the fruits of the Spirit find comparatively free growth—it produces sixtyfold. This, then, is the contrast here—the flesh and the Spirit; and we find in it, that the fairest form of the flesh, the apparently joyful reception of the word of the kingdom, whether it be in affection or intellect, comes to nothing; whatever it be occupied on, it is but “the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”
The third case, compared with other scriptures, is equally clear I think. The hindering power is declared directly, “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things.” Compare Mark 4; Luke 8. Now, the world and the love of it we continually find opposed to the Father. “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world.” “Love not the world, neither the things of the world; if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The hatred of the world to the Son, shewed that it was not of the Father; and the children were not of this world any more than the Father, as allied to Him, even as Christ the Son was not of the world.
Every one familiarly and spiritually acquainted with the Gospel of John must have noticed the opposition between the world and the sonship of Christ; one being associated with the Father, and the other directly opposed to the glory of the Father, in the great question of that sonship in which alone it was known. Our Lord thus concludes the whole presenting of His work and His people to the Father: “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee, but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.” The whole chapter illustrates the question. Now we shall hence well understand the opposition between the two, and how He “who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world,” closes that statement by saying: “and I have declared unto them thy name and I will declare it, that the love,” etc. But, in the believer, even when not only quickened, but in the Spirit exercising himself to mortify the deeds of the body, who recognises at once the evil of the flesh (though we are little aware how subtly and widely its beguiling and deceiving influence is spread, how fair a form inbred selfishness may assume), and in whom, in an ordinary sense, the flesh is habitually in a measure mortified; how often do we find the world holding a prevailing power and recognised title over the judgment or habit, and the fruitfulness, comparatively speaking, utterly marred!
“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be my disciples.” Let us then recognise, on the sole basis of scripture (excluding the consideration of the circumstances in which the lie of this world has power over our mind), that the world is a positive hinderer of fruitfulness, the much fruit in which the Father is glorified; and for this plain reason, that our sonship, our inheritance, the kingdom is not recognised. The devil, as he acts on us by the flesh, “the lust of the flesh,” “good for food,” or “of the eyes,” and the like, is the god and prince of this world; and the Spirit in them that are quickened, where not dimmed and darkened by the spirit of this world, is not only the power of the difference of the carnal and spiritual nature, but bears witness that we are sons and heirs. Thus at hberty, we cry by it, Abba, Father; and the fruits are an hundredfold, where we are free from the system in which we are fettered. The energy of the kingdom is there, the Saviour of the kingdom is there, the stamp of the Father of glory, and hence, in deadness to the world, power over it. The whole stamp of nature is different; we are not of the world as Christ is not of the world. Accordingly, as we find the Lord the true vine, so we find the Father the husbandman, purging the branches, that they may bring forth more fruit. We may be isolated indeed, but isolated sons, upon whom the glory of the Father shines in hope and the power of inward association; the sons of God, though in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. In a word, the children of God (the God who hath called us to “His own kingdom and glory,” the living God) is our distinguishing title; and, as the Jews were affianced to Jehovah, we are called to be “perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
I cannot pursue this subject farther here, though I may touch on it, with the Lord’s permission, at a future time. As regards the explanation of the parable, I would say a very few words more. The inseparableness of the evils, as well as of the gracious agents of covenant remedy, is not in question; the devil, the world, and the flesh, are too intimately associated to need explanation of our distinct consideration of them; and I believe more intimately than people are commonly aware of. Of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, I need not speak; but while we have spoken of them in operation as to profit, we must not forget their unity in every act, whether of creation, or anything else: they invariably act in one, and as invariably, as far as I see, in the same order, that is, by the Son, through the energy of the Spirit.
Another remark is necessary. Although we have looked at the love of the world, as hindering the full characteristic fruitfulness of the children of God, and the knowledge and love of the Father as the contrasted character, we must remember that this knowledge in principle is the portion of every believer. “I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father”; nor could we otherwise put all believers under this responsibility. But I believe it will be found that the measure of the fruitfulness of the life that is in them much depends on their exercise in the truths here noticed and dwelt on; and that the character of their fruitfulness also much depends on their fuller and deeper apprehension of the one or the other; and that the apprehension of the Father in the full development of the sonship glory attaches quite a new character on the whole course of the Christians life. This is our proper calling; and, while we must watch against the neglect of distinct reference to the Son (as administering the power of the kingdom against the “wicked one”), to the Spirit (as overcoming or detecting the workings and deceitful power of the flesh), to the Father (in contrast with the love of the world), a defective apprehension of the principle of heavenly glory will somewhere or other break down the efficiency of our christian service. The fulness of all was in our Lord; the fulness of all help in them is our practical responsibility; the enjoyment of fellowship with them our privilege. Ill-proportioned Christianity, I believe, continually springs from the power of Satan, through neglect of, or hindering the special power of one or another of the Persons, while indulgence of any of the evils is apt to throw us into the hands of Satan; and here is the wisdom of ministering to sick souls, for the source of the evil may be one, its manifestation may be another. How blessed to be able to refer to covenant assurance of a threefold Almighty help for the several difficulties one evil may bring! A believer will be healthful and strong against the enemy in proportion as he has just reference to all.
I do not say that a believer’s progress is, from knowing the Son, to the Spirit and the Father—far from it; but I believe the manifestation of the power and glory of their work will gradually unfold itself, even as the quickening by the Son will make the believer discern well the operations of the Spirit against the flesh, and both of these find their full development in the manifestation of the Father’s glory, in the consciousness (if he grow healthfully) that His kingdom is not of this world. In some cases of unusual energy of divine life, we see by God’s calling, all these apprehensions promptly developed, and the man consequently abundantly exercised, and his service great, corresponding to the knowledge received of the Son in the kingdom, as in the apostles Peter and Paul; but I must not outstep the practical part of the subject.
I am quite conscious, indeed particularly so, of the imperfection of these remarks; but I feel the importance of the subject deeply, and the basis of the view has been given: they are open to the correction or fuller application of those more versed in divine life. The wondrous and blessed grace of a developed covenant, the bright witness of the Son, and of the Father, and of glory: the grace in which they minister to the necessities of those who have no help in themselves, while they are the growingly understood and adored objects alike of communion and worship, separating from all that is not of themselves. I feel too, that in speaking thus, I am treading on holy ground, but ground which our God in His mercy has opened to us, and on which we are set to walk; freed from every fear, unless of not justly estimating it, by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; cleansed from all that could offend Them, by His blood, and acquainted with the boundless love which has brought these by it, while never reaching it, never able to be filled with it, knowing that it has reached even to us and filled us into its own fulness.
Let us also remember, that the indulgence in one of these seemingly remote evils brings in the power of the others; for God is not there. Thus Solomon’s indulgence of the world brought in the indulgence of the flesh, and the consequence was the direct power of Satan in the idolatrous worship of his wives. We might mention similar instances; but I close for the present.
Only one thing it is important to remark. It is not either by speculation or knowledge these things are obtained, though they may be ministered. “We are sanctified unto obedience.” The spirit of obedience is the great secret of all the present and practical blessings of the believer; for the Spirit is not grieved, and so becomes the minister of the grace and knowledge both of the Father and of the Son; and the poorest simplest believer, walking thus, enjoys the blessings of the pledged faithfulness both of the Father, and the Lord, and the Spirit, to the blessed purposes of love in which we stand, and of divine glory.
We have only spoken of the parables which are found in this chapter. There remain still some verses which close it: they contain the judgment formed about the Lord by the unbelief of the Jews. He was in His own country; His works were not denied; but the Jews stumble against the stone of offence. He is the prophet without honour in His own country and in His own house. He is the son of the carpenter. In a word, He is judged even in Israel, according to the flesh.
But this carnal and blinded judgment of the people was not the whole of their history. The passions of the false king push him on to destroy the testimony of God, and Jesus withdraws. He shews, nevertheless, by acts marked in the Psalms, the presence of Jehovah who healed them, and all His compassion and His tenderness toward His people (Psalm 103:3; 132:15); but, having borne this testimony, He sends His disciples alone in the ship, He Himself dismisses the multitude and goes up towards God—the present position of Christ: having fully borne this testimony to the multitude in Israel, He separated His disciples from them and went on high to pray. His disciples are found alone in the midst of the tempest; the Lord rejoins them, and all again becomes calm.13 It is ever here, it seems to me, the disciples viewed as Jews, though in principle Christians of all times, ought to have identified themselves with Him, and to take this position. A remnant of those who expect Him (among the Jews) would also go out to Him in the midst of this tempest of peoples, before He enters into the tossed boat of the heirs of the promises, and the Lord agrees to it; but their steps totter because of the trouble: the Lord sustains them, and, calm being restored by His presence, all those who are in the ship recognise Him as the Son of God. Thus will it be with Israel. In Peter, we have the remnant which goes before them; and in those who leave not the ship, we have the type of all those who remain in the ordinary course of Judaism until Christ is there Himself.
Having given this sketch of the position of the Jews, as the result of their rejection, as before had been given one of the kingdom of heaven, the Lord pronounces His moral judgment upon the religious forms and pretensions of the most religious among the people. It was only outside and hypocrisy, a walk already condemned by Isaiah: their worship was vain, their doctrines were but the commandments of man. God wished for realities.
Thence He passes to a more general thesis. Out of the heart of man (and the Jew was but a man, as to his heart, before God) proceed evil thoughts. Such is a man alas! whether Jew or Gentile; but let him be of the cursed race of the Canaanites, and from among the cities whose repentance would have been as a miracle, he who, owning his misery, should rest by faith upon the super-abounding mercy of God, would be heard according to his wish, for God is there, and He is love. Here it is not precisely the church. The rights of Israel, at least of its lost sheep, are owned; but this cannot hinder the grace and nature of God; far different from the selfishness and the ennui of the disciples, which attaches no value to the privileges of God’s people. The Lord avows His special mission; but He cannot deny what God is, when faith penetrates to that point. Having thus shewn (all the while recognising Israel) that the poor Gentile is to be delivered, He returns to Israel, healing the people and refreshing them with bread. He feeds the poor of the flock.
These views of the kingdom and of the ways of God toward Israel having been given; the uselessness of a religion of forms by ordinances, however privileged, having been declared; the principles of man’s heart, and the impossibility of closing the heart of God having been shewn; the Spirit of God enters, in this chapter, upon another ground. The existing generation is abandoned; there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. It was not so difficult to discern the times. Thereupon the Lord, amidst the uncertainty of the masses, on the answer of the faith of Simon Peter, reveals what is to succeed this generation, namely, the church, never named before.
Here it is not Christ who sows, but the faith of another, faith given to Peter, which discerns in Jesus the Son of the living God. The Jews had only the sign of a risen Saviour; the generation was then rejected, and nothing built upon the first mission of Jesus (the Messiah should “be cut off and shall have nothing”);14 but the Son of the living God—here is a power and a strength which the energy of the prince of this world could not overturn, against which evidently the gates of hades should not prevail; for in His resurrection, on the contrary, they should be broken by Christ. The resurrection of the Son of God, according to the power of life which was in Him, the foundation and measure of the life and security of the church, was sheltered, and the church by it, from all the attacks of him who had the power of death. In vain the tomb shrouded itself in darkness, out of the midst of which came forth the life more powerful than ever. Simon makes this confession by the revelation of the Father, and it is upon that the church is founded. Indeed Peter is the only one who adds this word “living” to the expression “Son of God.” Nathaniel just owns Him as the Son of God and King of Israel; but Peter has the secret of the immovable security of the church of God. It will be found in his epistles that this idea of “living,” associated with the resurrection of Christ, forms their basis and ruling thought.
Moreover, not only the church, more powerful than death, like its divine Founder, should be based on the confession of Peter; but the administration of the kingdom here below should be entrusted to him. Not he, but Christ builds the church upon the foundations which the Father Himself had laid in the revelation of His life in the Son; but the keys of the kingdom are entrusted to Peter. This administration was to begin among the Jews, and Peter was specially their apostle.
Here the Lord forbids them to announce Him as the Christ—that is no more the question, and from this time He speaks to them of His rejection and death; but the heart of Peter, favoured as he was, answered in no wise (for he was still in the flesh, not having received the Spirit) to this revelation which had been made to him. He opposes himself to the cross, and the Lord treats him as being identified with Satan and doing his work. Such is the flesh; whatever may be the revelations enjoyed by him who is not yet set free. On this occasion the Lord presents the cross as the portion of all those who followed Him, but He supports them in difficulty by the revelation of His coming in glory, and there were even some there who should see before their death the Son of man coming in His kingdom.
The church is built upon this confession of Jesus, the Son of the living God, manifested in resurrection; this supposes the death and cross of Christ; but one is sustained in cleaving to the good of the soul, even though life should be lost; for the Son of man will come in the glory of His Father.
Here we may remark that in verse 21, it is Jerusalem, the scribes, the chief priests who alone are presented as culpable. It is not the question yet of the Gentiles; but their very guilt puts Jesus in the position, not of Messiah only, but of Son of God in power, and of Son of man, coming in the glory of His Father with His angels, with a view to judging all men.
The immediate answer to this revelation which the Saviour makes of His glory as Son of man, is, in the three first Gospels, the transfiguration, compared by Peter himself to the power and coming of our Lord Jesus (2 Peter 1:16-18); the future glory of the Son of man, such as it will be manifested to the faithful remnant of the people, is revealed to the astonished eyes of the poor disciples. The risen and the changed are in the same glory as the Saviour, they are with Him, and hold converse with Him; the law and the prophets give way to the glorified Son of God, who alone is to be heard.
From this moment Jesus speaks only of suffering this faithless and perverse generation, but He is unwearied in doing them good. He shews to His disciples the part that men (not the Jews only) would have in His death. The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men! The point for the disciples is the power of faith; nevertheless it was needful to live near to God in withdrawment from all that belonged to the flesh, in order to conquer and cast out the power of the enemy.
At the end of the chapter, the Lord takes advantage of His rights as Son, to identify His disciples with Him in this same privilege; but still, not to offend, He submits to His position as a subject Jew, which Peter was forward to attribute to Him. In this beautiful passage He shews His divinity in the two-fold respect of knowledge of the thoughts, and of power over creation; but at the same time He identifies Himself with Peter (who had made of Him a Jew like any other), saying “lest we”; and if a fish is made to bring the money needed for Him, it is for His poor disciple as well as for Him—” for Me and thee.” He places them with Him in the position of sons, and places Himself with them in theirs, though He was the God of all knowledge, whom every creature, save man, was eager to obey. He puts Himself on the same footing with them, where love and humility were happy in grace towards the poor, the poorest of all Himself!
It is upon this basis of the humiliation of the Saviour, a principle which is linked with grace and is its perfect manifestation, that all which follows here is founded. Jesus would have His disciples to take this place, and identifying themselves with what is least, as He had done Himself, to act also in grace; for He was come (a position infinitely more glorious than that of the Messiah, whence the Jews repulsed Him, because He spoke the truth) to seek and to save that which was lost. And such was the case with all men, children as well as others; for the Lord applies here to a little child the principles of Luke 15; but if they were lost, it was not the Father’s will that they should perish. Even so in the church (for it is founded upon the rejection of the Messiah) His own ought to act in grace towards a brother, come what will.
Here is the rule, his brother must be gained; self-humiliation raises us to this elevation, and permits us to act in grace toward all. But this grace, pursued even to the end by the care of the congregation, and rejected by him who was the object of it, would place him (whether Jew or Gentile) in the position of a publican and a pagan. On the one hand, grace becomes the principle of action; on the other, the church, established and acting on the principle of grace, becomes the enclosure with reference to which one should speak of the without and the within of a publican and a pagan; for all that the disciples should bind on earth would be bound in heaven. Such is the marvellous effect of the rejection of the Messiah and the position of those identified with Him in this rejection; for now, where two or three are gathered in His name, Jesus is found in their midst. There has He put His name for a blessing. See Exod. 20:24; Deut. 12:5,11, etc. Thus the effects of His rejection on the power of this accomplished work before the Father are unrolled (though this was as in a shadow) before His eyes.
In answer to Peter, who asks how far this walking in grace ought to be carried, the Lord shews that, as it was a principle essential to the nature which acted in grace, there was no limit; it would be a limit to the privilege of man and to the nature of God. In the kingdom of heaven, mercy triumphs over judgment.
The Lord gives, notwithstanding, not only a principle, but a similitude of the kingdom, which applies, it seems to me, historically. The Jews being guilty of ten thousand talents by the crucifixion of the Son of God, God acts in grace by the preaching of the gospel to the nation, in virtue of the intercession of Jesus, to which answers the preaching of Peter on the testimony of the Holy Ghost (Acts 3); but they refuse the grace to the Gentiles, much less guilty toward them than they themselves were toward God, and the wrath came upon them to the uttermost. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 1 Thess. 2:16.
The Lord pursues the principles on which the relationships of the people with God subsist. He does not weaken those that existed: on the contrary, He confirms them; but He advances now and leaves the people under the consequences of the violation of the covenant under which they were found, and without the enjoyment of the new blessings into which He introduced those who accompanied Him in His rejection.
In answer to the Pharisees, who tempted Him by questions of their schools, where the fear of God was not—He traces things higher up than the law. He speaks as the Son of man. He confirms, in all their extent, the ties that God had formed; the ordinance of Moses did but suffer the hardness of their heart. The law just recognised the relationships which preceded it; what was more than those relationships was only for a time.
The second principle He enunciates is the humility, the teachableness, and the confidence of a little child: such is the principle whereby one enters the kingdom.
Thirdly, all goodness in man is denied; God alone is good. (See the position that Christ takes at the beginning of Psalm 16. He has said to God, Thou art My Lord; My goodness extendeth not to Thee, but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all My delight.) Then the Lord, repeating and taking up the word of the young man, confirms the law as a condition of life, and says to him: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” There was the principle of the law, and it is also what the young man had done outwardly.
On his answer to that effect, the Lord goes farther: Give up thy heart then—I myself am the touchstone for that— and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: other hopes are open through My rejection. The young man went away sorrowful. The only answer to this difficulty insurmountable for sinful man, the only key which opened the door of the kingdom of God, was, “With God all things are possible.”
The chapter is remarkable in this respect, that is to say, for the manner in which Jesus confirms for the Jews that which was fundamental in the law, “These things do, and thou shalt live.” He maintains the everlasting righteousness of God as regards the ties of nature: He founds all this upon that which preceded even the law, and (since the relations on which the law was based preceded the law) He appeals from it to what was of God at the beginning. He also goes beyond the law for him who observed it in his ordinary relationship, and presents Himself as the true touchstone for the heart— Him, the rejected One, who was not of the world. What is the only means of arriving at it? The answer is: “With God all things are possible.” He recognises all that God had put in Judaism; but he ceases to be a Jew: the young man could not live on such a footing.
These words of Jesus excite in the spirit of Peter this question: What shall we have therefore—we who have forsaken all and followed thee? The answer, founded on the glory already revealed on the mount of transfiguration, is, that when the Son of man shall return in His glory, in the regeneration, the twelve shall be in their place on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
This answer leaves all aside, until the restoration of Israel, and places again the disciples in connection with this principle, omitting what, in the interval, was for the church; but it is also wholly outside the legal relationships of the people with God. If the law were accomplished, life would be the result. Those who followed Christ, when the Jews under the law rejected Him, should judge Israel in the day of the glory of the Son of man. They had followed the Lord in His rejection by Israel; they should participate in His glory when He should be the glorious Head of His people and of the entire world. Moreover, whoever had acted faithfully in this relation and taken Christ for his portion should receive an hundredfold here below, and besides life everlasting. Nevertheless one can judge nothing beforehand as to the relative degree of glory of individuals by their present position.
The kingdom was established by the sovereignty of grace, and if God called the labourers at the eleventh hour, He could reward them as He pleased. Thus the last should be first, and the first last. On one side, then, there was the encouragement of the reward of labours and sacrifices; but, on the other, if one lost sight of the principle of grace, with a view to demanding this reward as of right, and so that others should not have it, then here is the answer: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” Cheered by the prospect of an unbounded reward, we are wholly upon the principle of grace.
Having thus set forth the motives of labour in the kingdom of heaven, after having explained the transition, from obedience to the law (in order to have life) to christian devotedness, the Lord puts clearly before the eyes of His disciples the path here below which conducts to glory. The Son of man should be rejected, delivered to the Gentiles, and crucified; but here still the Lord shews His profound and entire submission to His Father. His disciples shall drink, it is true, of His cup (it is His answer to those who asked of Him the first places), but as to their reward, He left it with His Father; He pretends not to assign it to others. An entire dependence on His Father—such was the position of Christ. He had not even, so to speak, the patronage of His kingdom.
This desire of the two disciples was in itself only a manifestation of the spirit of the flesh; the Gentiles so acted. Jesus speaks of the Gentiles, for He recognises the remnant of Israel in His disciples, a remnant which, apparently, lost its place in following Him. It is in glory that their relation with Israel should be manifested; but let him who would be great among them be a servant. It is what the Son of man had done; He was come to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Since the transfiguration, the Lord acts according to principles which go beyond the law, while recognising its force according to what God had said of it—principles which assert a rejected Messiah, and shew where it is necessary to come, that is, to accompany Him without the camp. It was the Son of man ministering and giving His life as a ransom, and not the Messiah crowned with the glory of Israel: they are chapters of transition.15 The church is not there. They are the relationships of the Son of man, rejected by the Jews and taking another place, but assuring, to those who followed Him, their true position in glory in the age to come, when the Jews shall be restored; but, referring to the Father, being subject, and having only to suffer Himself. It was the Father who should glorify them; then those who followed Him now should act anew on the Jews, and that from the bosom of glory.
At the close of the chapter, the Holy Ghost resumes the thread of history: Christ presents Himself for the last time to the people, as such; and, owned as Messiah, the Son of David, He acts in power, in favour of those who owned Him, namely, two blind men; and in
a public testimony is borne to Him, as the Son of David; then comes the judgment of all the people in His presence. In the gospel according to John, the testimony is borne to the glory of Jesus as Son of God, by the resurrection of Lazarus; to His glory as Son of David, by His entrance into Jerusalem, which is also recounted here; and to His glory as Son of man, by the arrival of the Greeks, who ask to see Him, which gave Him room to announce His death. But here, in this gospel, which is occupied with the Messiah and His relations with the Jews—relations interrupted by their sins, and resumed later in glory—the question is only of His messianic glory, to which God bears a testimony according to the word of the prophet.
And, first, it is the Lord who announced Himself; all is at His disposal. He sends to seek the ass, and commands His disciples to reply to those who asked why they acted thus, “The Lord has need of them.” Mounted on the ass, He enters Jerusalem as a King, according to the prediction of Zechariah. The multitudes salute Him, according to Psalm 118, and announce to the excited city that it is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth, that they thus receive as King.
Jesus, having entered into the temple, executes judgment, purifies the house of God, denouncing the iniquity which had defiled it, and heals those who could neither see nor walk. He recalls to mind how the Psalms shewed that the Lord would vindicate His rights by the mouth of little children, and leaves the city in order to repair to Bethany. He enters as Lord, King and Judge; but He is no more of Jerusalem. By the curse of the fig-tree He shews the condemnation of Israel, full of appearance, but without fruit, and declares to the disciples, astonished at that which had happened to the tree, that, if they had faith, they should cause the mountain which was before them to disappear, all the stability of the nation, which should be cast among the peoples.
The next day, as they demanded by what authority He did these things, He returns the point of the question upon the conscience of those who addressed it to Him; a conscience too little upright to answer, and which, hiding itself under a pretended ignorance, left Him by that very thing the liberty of refusing to answer them. Also, it was evident that they would not avow that which they knew well; to answer would have been impossible, and only a sanction given to iniquity. Besides, the Lord sounds their conscience in place of recognising their authority; it is what was then fitting. He is the Messiah in spite of them, and He judges, and thereupon He presents them, commencing with themselves, with the true picture of their conduct, worse than that of the publicans and of the harlots. Then He describes all the conduct of the nation toward the messengers that God had sent them, even to His own Son, and He makes them pronounce their own sentence, which He supports by a citation of Psalm 118:22. Finally, He announces to them, alluding to this Psalm, the consequence of stumbling on this stone, and the still more terrible lot of those on whom it should fall in judgment.16
Up to this point the Lord had taken them on their own ground, as Jews, citing their own scriptures, and judging their state, considering them as the vineyard of the Lord; it was the Son of the King Himself who sought fruit in the vineyard which He had entrusted to the husbandmen. But there was another point of view, the activity of His Son; and the kingdom of heaven is presented of the love of God and His counsels on the subject as the marriage supper of the King’s Son, to which they had been invited and would not come: upon that their rejection and the call of the Gentiles, but, consequent upon that call, the judgment of those who had not really put on Christ. The nation, in general, had then been judged according to its actual position, and in view of the grace which it had rejected, grace which invited it to the wedding of the King’s Son, where it was going to be succeeded by poor wretches collected from all sides, but received of God. The different classes of Israel now in their blindness are presented for judgment. The partisans of the law and of the rights of the Jews, join themselves with the impiety which sold them to the Gentiles, and ask Him if they should own this dominion of the Gentiles over the people of God. The Lord leaves them where their iniquity had placed them, demanding that they should render to God His true service. After that came the Sadducees, who are judged by the simple but powerful testimony of the word. The Lord Jesus gives the great fundamental principles of all the law and the prophets—principles which, moreover, should be realised only in the gospel and in the renewed man. Then He presents the enigma of His own position, according to Psalm no: the Jews were entirely incapable of resolving it. From that moment no man durst ask Him any more questions.
The Lord, while quite owning the judicial authority of that which existed among the Jews, an authority based upon the law, pronounces a judgment, levelled at all those who administered that authority, insisting that the form even of it should no more subsist in the midst of His own and that the greatest among them should be servant, for he who exalted himself should be abased.17 What was yet wanting to fill up the measure of the scribes and Pharisees was to imbrue their hands in the blood of God’s witnesses, from which they boasted that they were pure. They were about to be put to the proof, and all the blood shed should be required of that generation. Finally, the Lord, moved with affection for the city beloved of God, declares that their house should be left desolate, and that those to whom He was speaking should see Him no more till they would say, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!” according to Psalm 118 already cited twice: testimony of their restoration in peace at the time of the coming of Christ and of the preparation of their heart before His advent.
Chapters 24, 25.
The nation was judged, and its restoration foretold, when its heart should be prepared to receive Him whom God had sent; but the disciples were not yet instructed in the circumstances which should take place in the interval, nor was their heart separated from the glory of the former order of things. This chapter brings us to the communications of Christ on this subject, and furnishes the warnings necessary to the faithful remnant.
The first thing that Jesus announces to them is the judgment of God upon that which existed at that time before their eyes, and of which the disciples had such an exalted idea. There should not remain there one stone on another. The Lord being seated on the mount of Olives, His disciples come to Him. That which the Lord had said to them suggested this question, or rather, these questions: When will these things take place, namely, the destruction of the temple? What will be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?
We must remember, that the age for the disciples, was not Christianity, but, on the contrary, the state of Judaism, until the coming of the Messiah; so that these things were connected in their mind. The Lord had spoken of the destruction of the temple, which has more or less connection with the same thought; nevertheless it is rather the revelation which the Lord had made thereupon that gave rise to the questions which had already pre-occupied their mind.
In His answer He does not touch upon the first of these questions, namely, the era of the destruction of the temple. In fact that did not concern them; for that temple was as nothing for them now in the eyes of the Lord. He considers their position in two points of view, namely, the general point of view, according to which they found themselves in a position of witness; and the special point of view, when the abomination of desolation would be at Jerusalem. The first extends to the end of the thirteenth verse; the second from the fifteenth verse to the twenty-eighth.
The first thing that the Lord points out is, that the ruin in which His departure was to leave Jerusalem would give place to many false Christs, which would come in His name. The disciples must not suffer themselves to be deceived by them. There would be also wars and rumours of wars,18 but they must not be disturbed by them; these things must take place, but the end would not be yet. For nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there would be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places, and all these things would only be the beginning of sorrows. Such is the outside, the providential events of which they would have knowledge.
Such would be the state of the world, and what would happen there in this time of waiting for the Lord and for the end of the age; when the time would draw near, and that those who should have intelligence must await His coming on the earth and for the earth, a waiting which identified itself with the interests of the Jews in a manner, it is true, more or less clear, nevertheless according to God. He speaks of His disciples as of the Jewish remnant; but, though they were surrounded by Jewish circumstances, the hatred against them, while having its source among the Jews, would extend still further; they would be hated of all the Gentiles for the name of Christ. There would be also treasons, many would be offended—false prophets among those who pretended to have the same hopes, and the excess of iniquity would chill many of them. But, whoever endured unto the end should be saved. All this supposes the disciples in Jewish relations; not that the testimony of God was limited to that; but, whatever may have been elsewhere the extent of the testimony, the Lord speaks here of those who were connected with the hopes, the thoughts, and the circumstances of the Jews. The testimony of the gospel of the kingdom would be borne effectively in all the extent of the habitable world to all the nations, to all the Gentiles. It is not a question here of salvation and of the union of the church in a single body with Christ, but of the gospel of the kingdom: “this gospel of the kingdom” (the gospel which Jesus preached to the Jews; not His death, which was not a gospel to the Jews, for it was an effect of their unbelief with regard to the gospel which He preached; but the testimony that the kingdom was at hand) would be announced to the Gentiles.
If the ground of all that abides, for the Christian, there is a speciality which is proper to the testimony of John the Baptist, of Christ on earth, and of the disciples in the latter days.
This fourteenth verse is taken quite alone as a fact which is to happen before the end of this age is come on earth. Here then the Lord, though He may have given warnings useful for His disciples, as Christians, in those days, takes the same starting-point as they take in their questions, and returns to the point whither their thoughts tended, without correcting anything as to this tendency. He interests Himself as to the same things; He does not own, it is true, the nation and the temple as they then existed; but He does not seek to raise their hopes to heaven. He supposes that their connections always subsist with the earth, with Israel, but according to God; as a remnant, and as having the testimony of God in the midst of all that. It is just what happened during part of their life; then that was, as it were, eclipsed by the church, but it will be fully accomplished in the latter times, at the beginning of the travail of bringing forth, which will introduce the end of the age.
Therefore, at the fifteenth verse, the Lord determines the thing plainly by a date, or at least by an event which is local, and which has a known relation with the end; and here is the second part of His discourse, where all is marked with precision. The abomination of desolation, of which Daniel has spoken, will be placed in the holy place; and here we must refer entirely to Daniel (“whoso readeth, let him understand”), that is to say, that this has reference to what will happen at Jerusalem and in those countries, in this locality definitely, and to nothing else, and that in the latter days. When this will happen, the disciples, instructed by the prophecy, are to flee. Here the hope is entirely Jewish. It is evident that it is not for me to save my life in flying from Jerusalem; that the aim of the Christian is no more that flesh should be saved, that is to say, that his life here below should be spared. In a word, they are Jews, having faith, but in Jewish circumstances, thoughts and intelligence. They were to pray to God that their flight might not be on the Sabbath day, etc.
Meanwhile, dear reader, see what tenderness, of God in the midst of these scenes of horror, which, if the hand of God was not extended in grace, should spare no flesh! See the majesty of the heavens, which deigns to think of the time that He will provide for the flight of His poor creatures and of the Sabbath which might shackle them! But here there is a very important remark to make, which is that the Lord says, Your flight, and When ye shall see, that is to say, that, although the circumstances might alter, He always regards His disciples under their Jewish character.
From the fifteenth verse of chapter 24, it is evident that the Lord addresses Himself to them as to the same as those of whom the question is in the preceding verses: “Take heed that no one deceive you” (v. 4); “when ye, therefore, shall see” (v. 15); that is, He views His disciples as Jewish disciples in connection with the nation, as He had done towards the nation itself in the preceding chapter, verse 37, where He identifies it with the nation in the latter days, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Nevertheless, there is in the circumstances a sufficiently important difference. He supposes the death of many during the first period without date. When the abomination is there, it is a question of saving one’s fife. In these beginnings of sorrows, which have no fixed date, but which suppose Jewish disciples in Palestine, betrayed by one another and hated by the Gentiles, the hope of many is to be founded still more upon the resurrection than upon the deliverance wrought by the advent of the Messiah. The Psalms (which present to my mind the relations with the Jews, of Christ considered either as the just man, or as the King on Zion) speak either of Himself prophetically, or of the faithful remnant, animated by His Spirit with more or less intelligence, and of His circumstances in the latter days.
Now, the book of Psalms is divided into five parts, which treat each of a different subject. In the first the hope of resurrection is very frequently found there; in the others, almost more; in all is seen the expectation of deliverance; but in the first this expectation is passed beyond, which has hardly place in the others. Now, from the beginning of the second part, the Spirit of Christ, in the remnant, speaks as having been forced to abandon Jerusalem, of which the remembrance is precious to Him. He appeals from it to God against the Gentiles in Psalm 42; and against the ungodly Jews in Psalm 43.
It is very evident that the disciples, to whom Jesus addressed Himself, while they had, at the moment of His speaking with them, Jewish hopes, enjoyed at a later period the hope of the resurrection, and more beyond; but He speaks to them here according to their actual position before Him, and, as Prophet, He declares to them what concerned the faithful remnant of the people called to bear testimony, as in the preceding chapter He had shewn them the fate of the nation. The disciples were those “of understanding,” of Daniel 11 and I2f who are called here to understand that of which the intelligence is promised them in those chapters.
The warnings for the time of testimony are then given to the end of the thirteenth verse, and, having announced the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom among all nations; at least among all those of the prophetic (habitable) earth, we have from the fifteenth the instructions of Jesus for the time of the last twelve hundred and sixty days. Then will the false Christs seduce, if it were possible, even the elect; but the coming of the Son of man will be hike the lightning, for where the carcase is, there, as the flight of the eagle, will fall the judgment of God.
Here ends the second part, which treats of the great tribulation at Jerusalem, and of the dangers which accompany it even for the very elect, dangers to which the advent of the Son of man puts an end. The circumstances of that time, when it shall come, will furnish a date and signs. Moreover, and as a general result, immediately after the tribulation of those days, all the powers of heaven shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. Many warnings had been given to the disciples, but no sign to the people on earth; it had even been refused: the sign of the Son of man would now be in heaven at His coming. The generation having been already rejected, it would have been out of place to have given it a sign; it was too late, for it was about to be judged: as the tribes of the land (of Israel) shall mourn, according to Zechariah 12, and shall see the Lord come in the clouds of heaven. Every eye shall see Him; but here I believe that Jesus restricts Himself to Israel, I do not say to Jerusalem: they are all the tribes of the land of Israel who are called to mind here. But this will not be all: He will gather together the elect19 of this people from the four winds, from all the countries where they will be scattered in those days. Two things, as to the epoch, are here distinctly marked by the Lord:
Firstly, the circumstances of which He has just been speaking. When all these things shall come to pass, His coming and the end of the age will be at the door; secondly, the actual generation of the Jews shall not pass away till all these things should be accomplished. There are circumstances for them that understand. As to dates, if the day or hour be inquired of, the Father alone knew them.20
As to the generation, I doubt not but that the Lord uses this expression morally, which is constantly done in the word. “He shall go to the generation of his fathers, they shall never see light,” Ps. 49:19. “A seed shall serve him, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation,” Ps. 22:30. See specially Deuteronomy 32, which precisely treats of this subject, in verses 5 and 20.
If the day is not known save to the Father alone, that accords, I think, with what is said in Psalm no: “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” The Lord, who expects all here below as servant of His Father, has received but this word at His mouth, “until.” Nothing shall fail, no uncertainty in the events, not one word that has proceeded out of His mouth shall fall to the ground. As to the moment, it would be as in the days of Noah; that is to say, a sudden judgment, and unexpected on the earth; they should be overtaken by it, when they should least expect it. Yet the Lord will know how to distinguish them, and to leave those whom He should think worthy, even though two men should be in the same field, or two women at the same mill.
It was then for the disciples, instructed beforehand, to watch, for they did not know in what hour their Lord would come.
But it may be asked, how it is that the Lord identifies His apostles with the rebellious Jews, who will be overtaken by the judgment; and since the church is to ascend to Him in the air, how can it happen that two shall be found in the same field in the day of the Son of man? It is true, this will not happen for the church, as it is very certain that it did not happen for the apostles to whom these words were addressed; but in this discourse the Lord speaks to no one individually, but to classes, to certain categories of people. We have an evident proof of it in verse 39 of chapter 23 touching the Jews, and in verse 15 of chapter 24 touching the disciples. “When ye shall see the abomination of desolation,” etc. It is certain that the disciples had never seen it; it is even certain, from the book of Daniel, that it refers to the last days. The comparison of the twenty first verse with the commencement of chapter 12 of Daniel, then the date attached to this event at the end of this last chapter, demonstrate it with the plainest evidence.
Thus then, in the twenty-third chapter, as here, the Lord speaks of certain classes of persons: and here, of the faithful remnant of the Jews. It is true that those who composed this faithful remnant at that time were in the enjoyment of privileges far superior to the position here in question; but the Lord is not speaking of this now. He is occupied with the remnant, and He could speak to His apostles under this aspect, because they were in that moment the remnant, and put by the nation in the presence of the rejection of the Messiah, whatever may have been the superior privileges which afterwards they may have individually enjoyed.
All this supposes a gospel of the kingdom, specially preached in the last times; as moreover it supposes persons who will be persecuted for Christ’s name’s sake, but who, at the same time, will be more or less identified with Jewish hopes, who will even be of the Jewish remnant; and I believe the word tells us so. I see, at the end of Isaiah and of Daniel, chosen ones distinguished from the mass of those who shall be spared; but they are Jews, they occupy themselves with Jewish interests, and they will enjoy the deliverance of this people and the blessings which will result from it on earth. See Dan. 10, 11, 12. Isa. 65, 66. It appears that some will be put to death, whether during the period called the beginning of sorrows, or during the last tribulation.
It is evident that these two classes will have part in the first resurrection; which is also what the Apocalypse, chapter 20, shews clearly. Also, as a principle, this ought to be sufficiently clear. We have said that the same thing is repeatedly found in the Psalms, only much more (as least as a hope) before the great tribulation of the last half-week. But this changes not the destiny of the greater part of these saints. It seems to me (but here I do not go father than that), that those who have been at this epoch faithful witnesses, but without being put to death, will be particularly identified with the Lord Jesus, as King of the Jews upon earth. They will have been, according to the measure given them, that which He Himself was upon earth; that is, a witness in the midst of a people who rejected Him. Of this the Psalms bear the imprint. Only we must add, as a fact, the testimony of the kingdom to the Gentiles; for, if there is place for mercy, the Lord could not strike without a testimony having been previously borne. Until now this preaching has not been assigned to the remnant; it was given only as a sign, as that which is to happen before the end of the age comes, and the Son of man comes down upon the earth; but it is not said that it should be the work of the Jewish remnant. It is a sign which is given them.
Definitively we have the commencement of the sorrows, and the counsels and warnings proper to this period; the time of the great tribulation when the abomination of desolation should be set up in the holy place, and the special dangers of that terrible moment; the overthrowing of all the powers of the heavens, the appearing of the Son of man, and the gathering together of the Jews dispersed in all the world. Or, if you will take the thing farther back, the Jews are put aside, and the principles on which the relations of God, whether with them or with the Gentiles, shall be renewed, are in chaps. 14, 15; then in 16 the church; in 17 the glory of the advent of the Son of man; the position of grace and lowliness that Christ took, and that His were to take in the meantime, end of chapter 17, 18; and in general all the principles of the kingdom established by faith, and the ways of God in this respect, to the twenty-eighth verse of chapter 20. It is in this part (and therefore I have made this summary) that we have the individual portion of the apostles, that is, at the end of chapter 19; then the judgment of the nation, or if you will of that generation, in chapters 21 to 23; the exposition of all that concerned the remnant, in chapter 24.
But this leads our divine Master to consider the remnant under another aspect, that the disciples scarce understood then, that is, its relations no longer with Israel and the hopes of this people, but with Himself; in other words, to consider this remnant as charged with His service, as the retinue of His joy, come forth to await His return, or finally, as charged with His interests here below in His absence. This is what follows from chap. 24:45, to 25:30. In the first case, it does but present the position and the effect of fidelity during His absence, and the manner in which unbelief would identify itself with the state of heart which puts off the thought of His return. If, during the absence of the Master, a true service is yielded by the wise and faithful servant (it is not a question here of “good”) who keeps his place to accomplish, in care bestowed upon those who compose the household,21 that which was entrusted him in the house, blessed is that servant; at the time of the return of the Master, he will be made ruler over all His goods. Here this is a great principle of service to which the apostles were called—true for their service in Christianity, and applicable also for each of us in his place. But the position and the principle only are laid down here. If there was infidelity, if the servant put off the thought of the return of the Master, and went on his way with those who made themselves drunken in the world, he should be counted among the hypocrites and taken in an hour when he least expected it.
But the Lord pursues farther this general principle, and brings us back to the kingdom of the heavens. At that time here is that to which it would be like. It is not here the church, properly so-called, for the Lord could not present the church as the church in this manner; that is, He could not, in presenting the church as such, compare it to virgins who were in the attitude of waiting, as the retinue of the marriage supper of the Lord, with a bride quite different from the church, and the latter acting no other part than that of the companions of the marriage supper. But the state of the kingdom at this time may very well be compared to such circumstances: in effect, when the Lord will come as Son of man, to execute judgment against the wicked servant, and against Israel, and to receive Jerusalem and the Jewish people as His own, then the kingdom of heaven might be regarded in this point of view; there will be persons who will go out to meet Him; there was that which represented the kingdom. It was not a question of sowing, nor of buying fields, nor of separating good fish; nor was it any more a question of the activity of the kingdom, but of the conduct of those who, having been called, were gone out to meet the Bridegroom. The matter in hand here is not a bride, but the condition of those who wait for the return of the Bridegroom.22 And this is what had become of it; the expectation of the Bridegroom was lost: the virgins, at first, had acted after this principle; they could not abandon this position, however unfaithful they might have been to that which they had taken.
Here it will be asked, Does the Lord speak of the church? Is it meant by that, Do these exhortations and these parables apply to you who are members of it? I answer, assuredly so. But the explanation of the word does not stop here. Church is a word which is of all importance. If we search out the use of it in the epistles, we shall see that it is not found in those of Peter, and only accidentally in that of James, and once in 3 John 3, in speaking of the conduct of an individual here below. In the Apocalypse, it is a question of particular churches but never of the church, save in the expression “The bride says, Come.” In a word, Paul alone treats of this subject and employs this word, applying it to the unity of the members of Christ, to one sole church, or to one only body. Here we have: The kingdom of heaven shall be like, etc.
The church presents always the idea of a body, on earth during the period of her trial, but united to Christ on high; entirely for Him alone, separated to be His, as a wife to her husband. The kingdom of heaven supposes men on the earth, the government of God exercised over a certain state of things, the reign of heaven which continues the course of government of things here below, although in new circumstances; not in the same manner as in Israel: a government limited in its application, which puts on a particular form, until Christ comes, because He does not yet judge; and this is what gives place, He having been rejected, to the specialities contained in these parables. Nevertheless all those who recognise the authority of Christ are here under their responsibility. Perhaps, in certain cases, they are the same persons as those who compose the church; but they are looked at in another point of view.
Here then the kingdom would be like virgins gone forth to meet a bridegroom who comes to the house of his bride. He supposes them gone forth; but alas! while the bridegroom delays His coming, they sleep and are awakened at midnight by this cry: “Behold the bridegroom.” What characterised the state of the kingdom, is, that all had forgotten their vocation; it was not that there were no faithful ones; the wise virgins had their oil in their vessels. But all, wise or foolish in the kingdom, whether the sincere and pious, or whether they deceived themselves, all had lost the sense of their vocation. This great truth, the coming of the Master, had its influence; they are awakened, but to be separated by the arrival and the judgment of the Master. Time enough had been given for the trial of their state, but it was no longer the time to get provided with oil. The return of the Lord, as to our service, is always judgment, and not grace. And here we see that it is not the church as bride, for He takes us with Himself at His advent, as His bride; crowning the work of His grace in power of life and fulness of acceptance.
But we shall find that the return of Christ here below, His manifestation, is always matter of judgment and responsibility for Christians as for others. Our rapture whensoever it may come to pass (I am not discussing that now) is always grace and full favour common to the whole church. And it is because His return is judgment that He adds “Watch”; for when He shall be there, it will no longer be the time of grace.
In the first parable we have the contrast between him who served the master humbly, and the heart which said, He delayeth His coming; in that of the virgins, the effect of this delay which should eventually take place, an effect which should be manifested even with the faithful; namely, that the kingdom should be characterised by the complete forgetfulness of the Master’s return. However, the great difference was the possession of the oil of grace hidden in the heart, the Spirit of God.
For, in fact, all this would be like a man who, going to a distant country, trusts his goods to his servants, according to their ability; then, after a long interval, he returns. That is to say, the question is as to the fidelity of the servants, when they are left (to outward appearance) to themselves, and that during a long time, so that their heart is put to the proof to see whether it is truly the Master’s, if they identify themselves with His interests when there is no appearance of His return; or if they forget Him, as Israel at Sinai, who believed that it was all over with Moses. But here pay attention, that it is not simply the fact of being ready in grace, but the activity which confidence in the Lord inspires, the activity of service in love of persons identified with the interests of Christ, seeking but that, and seeking it with the zeal imparted by that love, not in His presence directed by His eye, but in His absence; in the intelligence and activity which the Spirit gives, and with a knowledge of His thoughts sufficiently intimate to be able to act in His absence. The servants are left to themselves; I do not mean by this that they can do these things without grace. The contrary is sufficiently demonstrated by the case of the wicked servant. But they are placed under responsibility; their condition is put to the trial; all that the Master does is to trust His goods to them. We shall see what they are by the result. Moreover, the question here is not of the moral conduct of the servant, as in the first parable (chap. 24:45), nor of fidelity to a position in which he was actually placed; but of intelligence, of activity, of the good-will of a servant, who has for his spring of action nothing but the mark of confidence which His Master gives him in committing His goods to him.23
Let us say a few words more on the parable of the talents. Here the servant is called “good and faithful.” It is that which occurs during the absence of Christ. He has delivered His goods to His servants; if they have understood His grace, if they have been touched by this mark of His confidence, they will have laboured with that which was given them, or else they will have wronged the character of their Master, not to have had an entire confidence in Him. There was only faithfulness, it is true, in the conduct of the two who had traded; for, why commit goods to them, if it was not to improve them? But the Lord keeps account of it; what He had confided was but a little thing in His eyes; but they had known Him and had been faithful. There was but one heart between Him and them, and now, at His return, they must enter into His joy; one heart in service, and one heart in joy. Also, “many things” were confided to them in His kingdom at the hour of His glory.
It is a sweet picture; the heart of the Lord trusts in them for His glory in His absence, and their hearts trust in Him for the result; and at His return their hearts are united in the joy. The heart of a servant on one side, and that of a Master on the other, doubtless, yet of a Master one-hearted with them, whose joy was to bless them, and to extend the sphere of their confidence according to the glory which He will have then acquired. As to His joy, they are to share it. The third servant does not lose the inheritance only; he is cast outside; he had never known his Master. This is what was wanting to him. The circumstances of the service might be the means of proving it, but there was the ground of the affair. Alas! for the details; it is that which happens too often to real Christians, and there is always the history of our failures in our service—we have not known the Master. Confidence in Him was wanting; now, can one know Him without confiding in Him? Nevertheless, to have to do with Christ takes away even the intelligence of ordinary duty from those who do not love Him, because the heart is soured by the consciousness of ill-will, and only regards Jesus as a severe judge. He will have acted toward us according to our faith. Alas, how little it is! but at least the Master is good.
In these three parables we see the history of what occurs as regards those who profess to be His, during His absence and at the time of His return, with respect to their responsibility. Next, I will only add here, that I do not believe that these three parables can be applied to the special testimony of the kingdom which will be borne at the end. The first only speaks of the charge and responsibility in the house towards the people whom the Master had left there. The second does not at all speak of this activity of grace, but of the condition of persons already called to wait for the Lord, the Bridegroom who was to come. The third speaks of those to whom the Lord delivers His gifts when He goes away, telling them that He will return after a long interval: then they will enter into the joy of their Master Himself. This last is not a likening of the kingdom of heaven, because it is not a state of things, a complete whole, the object of the care or of the judgments of God; but an individual responsibility, according to that which had been entrusted to each, and in which each also will receive according to what he had done under this responsibility, and according to the confidence that his Master had in him, and that which he himself had in the goodness of his Master.
There is no more a question here of the Jews in the latter days, at least in these two last parables; in the last, above all, this is evident; for it is about those to whom Christ entrusted His goods on His departure, and during the long interval which elapses before His return. As to the second, it is a likening of the kingdom of heaven; and the Jews will not go out with intelligence to meet the Lord, nor afterwards slumber in the midst of affliction, forgetting—even the wise—that He may come. Such is at least what it seems to me to be, and its connection with the parable that follows confirms this thought. That there is something analogous, in certain respects, I believe; that is, there will be those of greater intelligence, who will be morally separated from the others, and who will understand. But I do not think that the conditions of the parable can be coherently applied to them. Their state had already been the subject of the Lord’s instructions, in speaking of Jerusalem and of the latter days.
We come now to the third part of the discourse: the Lord arrived. This is what our precious Master announces. When the Son of man24 (for it is always in this character that He is presented, when He speaks definitely of His presence here, and not merely in that of Messiah, a title in which He had been rejected), when the Son of man, I say, shall come in His glory,25 it will not be merely an instantaneous act of appearing. “He will sit upon the throne of his glory”; there will be something permanent there; “and before him shall be gathered all the nations, and he shall separate them, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” The Gentiles will be thus judged. I do not believe that it is necessary to prove at greater length that what is called the last judgment is not the question here. The Son of man is returned in His glory; He is not sitting on the great white throne, from whose face the heavens and the earth flee away; Rev. 20:11. He is King now; He is about to reign, and not to give up the kingdom. He judges only the living Gentiles, for here there is no question of resurrection. He judges them on a principle inapplicable to the immense majority of those who will appear when God will judge the secrets of the heart; namely, according to the manner in which they shall have received certain messengers of Christ whom He calls His brethren. It is clear this does not apply to those who have lived in paganism before Christ, nor to the immense majority of those who have lived between His advent and His death. In a word, it is Christ who, as King here below, judges the Gentiles that shall be then on the earth—the nations.
Let us observe by the way here His tenderness to the Jewish nation. We have trouble to find the judgment of this nation in these chapters!26 He speaks indeed of the end of the age, but rather of tribulation than of judgment, of shortening those days for His elect. At His appearing all the tribes of the earth mourn, and He gathers together the elect (Jews) from the four winds. There is chastisement, it is true, but it terminates in blessing: the heart of Christ is busied with the remnant. He had said to the Jews, “Ye shall not see me henceforth until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” His heart turns in blessing towards the chosen people. Ungodly Jerusalem had rilled His eyes with tears, but here He puts an end to her chastisement. There is one who has known to say, “How long?”27 Compare Psalm 74:9. The fact is, that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, that is to say, that God does not change in His counsels with Israel. “In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it; he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.” Read the whole passage, Isaiah 27:6-9; for “this is all the fruit to take away his sin.”
Will there then be no cutting off? Not in the absolute sense. This is what will happen, as may be seen in the last chapters of Isaiah and elsewhere (compare the end of Zech. 13); the majority of the nation will join itself to the Gentiles and will be idolatrous. The unclean spirit which had gone out will return with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and the last state of that generation shall be worse than the first. They will be joined with Antichrist, and will receive him who will come in his own name. They will thus be the cruel nation (and not the godly or holy nation) of Psalm 43, and they will perish with the apostate Gentiles. The indignation and the chastisement having, along with the testimony of God, separated the remnant, they will no more be counted as the nation, and He will “make of a remnant a strong nation.”
Where then, in that which the Lord says here, is found positive judgment? It is contained, almost concealed, in these words: “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered”; a passage which makes allusion, I think, to an expression of the book of Job 39:30, and treats the Jews, who have thus united themselves with the enemies of God, as lost and dead, without wishing to name them anew. It is but a corpse united with the Gentiles, who, haughty as they are, will be judged on earth; for as it is said elsewhere of Babylon: “Strong is the Lord God who judgeth her,” likewise strong is He who judgeth them, however they may have despised Him.
Here, in order to make the application of the passage precise, Christ does not merely come, but it is told us that, when He will come, He will sit upon the throne of His glory; whilst it will be as lightning that He will come to put an end to the tribulation and the desolation which the abomination has caused. He had set the faithful servant over all His goods: those who have their portion with the hypocrites, the wicked and slothful servants have been cast outside when they waited not for Him; but here Jesus takes His place upon His throne. There is no more a question nor a doubt about His rights nor about the submission of all to the ends of the earth. He is now “the King” (v. 34).
There are in this scene three classes of persons: the goats, the sheep, and His brethren. The judgment of the two first classes depends on their conduct toward the third. To have done these things to one of His brethren is to have done them to Himself; not to have done them to one of the least of these is not to have done them to Himself. The “brethren,” I have no doubt, will be the remnant who will have preached the gospel of the kingdom among the Gentiles; the reception given to those messengers decides the lot of those who appear now in judgment. No more do I doubt that they are Jews who will bear this testimony, and whom Jesus calls His brethren, at this time; as those to whom He spoke, and that, after His resurrection, He calls His brethren, according to Psalm 22. I know very well that the Gentiles were grafted in later, but the Lord speaks according to that which resulted already from the fact that the disciples followed Him at that time rejected; and He employs this expression to mark those who among the Jews should be in the latter days in a kindred position of testimony. In principle, the disciples might apply it to themselves, and the Lord would have them know well that one day He should be King, and all the Gentiles should be forced to appear in judgment before Him, the rejected Messiah, and that they should enjoy all that which the Jews hoped as to the glory of their Messiah.
The brethren of Jesus, according to the constant language of the passages where this expression is employed, are the believing Jews, the remnant that believed in the Messiah (it is clear that all the Gentile believers have been admitted to the same privilege); but in this passage Jesus occupies Himself with those who surrounded Him, to encourage and direct them. As King He judges on earth. Those among the Gentiles who received well the brethren of Jesus enjoy, as blessed of the Father, the kingdom He had prepared for them from the foundation of the world; having received the gospel of the kingdom, they enjoy the effect of their faith, namely, the kingdom itself. Those who preached it, having been in the position of Jesus in testimony, will be recognised as His brethren in the blessing. But He is now King come on earth, so that His brethren are recognised here below; those put to death will have part in the first resurrection, but such is not the subject treated of here. The King is on earth, the nations on earth; so that there is nothing which can make it supposed that the brethren spoken of here are of heaven.28 There will be those, but here it appears to me that they are rather the messengers of the kingdom, who have been preserved in spite of all the difficulties of the time.
This kingdom is in the counsels of the Father from the foundation of the world; the church is chosen to be the spouse of Christ before the foundation of the world. The sheep are not called children, but only blessed of the Father. They enjoy eternal life, as those who refused to receive the brethren suffer everlasting pains. It is the final judgment of the Gentiles who will be on earth when Christ shall have established His throne there. Once more, it is not a question here of the resurrection.
Chapters 26, 27.
After having given us the future prospect of the remnant in all respects, the Spirit resumes the history of the events, and presents us with the recital, at once painful and touching, but for us infinitely precious, of the sufferings and of the resurrection of the Saviour. I do not think, dear brethren, of entering into many details of these chapters, because that which is here demanded is adoration, is the heart, rather than exegesis. I will only point out some particular points which belong to the character of this Gospel. And, first, some words on what the Lord says in giving the cup. It is good to remember that we eat the given body of Christ. One with Him in His glorious state, it is not of that we partake in the supper. Enjoying vitally this position infinitely exalted, we remember the sufferings which have purchased it for us; our hearts, our consciences, our souls, are nourished with the broken body; it is to Jesus dead that our thoughts recur, and to a love more powerful than death. If the body had not been broken, as Gentiles we should even have remained strangers as regards the promises, and sinners destitute of all hope.
A living Messiah was the crown of glory for the Jews; but, if He is lifted up from the earth, He draws all men. His broken body is the door for sinners from the Gentiles. On this the heart of the Christian is nourished, not merely as on manna come down from heaven, which typifies Jesus, a man upon earth, nor on Jesus in the heavens (where we are one with Him)—it is there the hidden manna; but on this devoted victim of propitiation which I see brought to the altar, and there sacrificed, slain for us—a victim full of love and of devotedness.
I pause before this mysterious scene, where He all alone (for no man could be there save to bend his head and adore) where the victim of propitiation, the man Jesus, presents Himself before the face of Him who, in His offended majesty, comes out to take cognizance of sin, in order that we might find on the tracks of the righteousness of God, which has burst forth and is accomplished, nothing but an infinite and immutable love: the love of the Father, enhanced by the accomplishment of the eternal righteousness to His glory. It is then the precious Saviour, humbled to death, that we have here, His body given (and one could not go lower down), and His blood shed out of His body. In that manifestly it is not a question of Jesus, such as He is at the present time; for He is glorified. This natural life He has left for us. He only presents it to God as a thing already given elsewhere; but He speaks here of a double effect of this blood which He has shed; first, He speaks of it as the foundation, or at least the seal, of the new covenant; and, secondly, as the foundation of the remission of the sins of many. That is, the basis of the new covenant is now laid, and, moreover, it is not a question of an act which relates to Jesus only to shew His obedience: this blood is efncacious for the sins of others. That does not merely secure new privileges, which one enjoys as a Christian, but procures the pardon of the sins of many of the Jews—not only so, but, in a general manner, of many. As to the new covenant, I will say some words here.
The old covenant, it is clear, is the covenant made with the Jews at Sinai. The Gentiles are not there for anything. The new one refers to the old; it will be established really with Judah and Israel, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah (chap. 31:31-34). What then have we to do with the new alliance, we other Gentiles, may we ask ourselves? This is the answer. It is clear that the covenant itself treats with the Jews and with Israel, but upon principles of grace, and based upon blood of perfect efficacy before God. Now, for the moment, Israel is put aside as a nation. It enjoys no covenant.
What then is the state of things with respect to the covenant? It is that the Mediator of the covenant has shed His blood, and thus the basis of the covenant is laid: it is confirmed and established immutable before God. Christ is ascended on high, and we are one with Him, enjoying all the effect which is essentially attached to His person and to His position. We have the blood of the covenant. Those who are called to it exercise the ministry of the new covenant. Our position is to be united with the Mediator of the new covenant, and to enjoy all the privileges which He enjoys Himself, as having it established in His blood; though the covenant is not formed with us, it is established in Him before God, and we, we are in Him here below. What is the consequence of it? We drink of blood. If a Jew had drunk of blood under old covenant, it was death: could a man be nourished on death? It is the fruit of sin, it is his condemnation, it is the wrath of God, as the blood in the body was the life; and a Jew had no right to that. But Christ has suffered death. And can the Christian be nourished on death? Yes; it is salvation, the death of sin, the infinite proof of love. It is his life, the peace of his soul, the deliverance from sin, before God. What a difference! We drink of His blood, the proof of salvation and of grace, and the source of life. Nevertheless it is Jesus dead, of whom it is a question here.
There is in Hebrews 13:20, another expression to which allusion may be made: God has “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” This shews us that Christ Himself is above, and has been raised according to the efficaciousness of the blood that He has shed to satisfy the glory of God. He, the only and beloved Son of the Father, charged Himself with our responsibility and our sins, and thus with the glory of God in this respect; and if this glory had not been completely satisfied, He could not evidently either rise again, or appear before Him whose majesty required that nothing should fail to the work. But He accomplished this work gloriously, and in that the Son of man has been glorified, and God glorified in Him; and He is ascended on high, not only as Son of God, but according to the efficaciousness of His work, in virtue of which He appears before the Father, the everlasting covenant being thus established in His blood. The question here is not of an old or a new covenant, which refers to particular circumstances, but of the intrinsic and essential worth of the blood of Christ. But perhaps I go too far away from our Gospel; I allow myself to be drawn away by the importance of the subject, and also by the precious worth and glory of the work of Him who has so much loved us.
I return now to the more humble precincts of my labour. We see here that the Spirit declares the value of the blood in a general way; it is shed for many for the remission of sins. The Gospel which treats of the kingdom, and of the Messiah in the Jewish point of view, must necessarily shew that the death of Christ had another aspect. In Luke, where this distinction was not obligatory, because of the non-Jewish character of his Gospel, it is said: “My blood which is shed for you.” We have then the blood of the new covenant and the remission of sins. The disciples were to drink of it, as they were also to eat of His given body. Such is their portion: to be nourished on the death of Jesus, and to shew it till He come.
Until then, He would drink no more with them of the fruit of the vine. They would be nourished on Him, but He would not be nourished with them. The fruit of the vine is the sign of social joy, “wine which cheereth the heart of God and man,” which they continually sprinkled in the burnt-oflferings and the peace-offerings, that is to say, of a sweet savour. (See Num. 15:5, 7, 10, where the question is not of offering for sin.) Now, of this fruit of the vine He would drink no more, whilst His disciples should drink abundantly of His death, the true drink, but a drink of separation from sin, and of Christ also, as regards His personal presence; the heavens must receive Him until the time of restitution of all things of which the prophets had spoken. Thus His social life with His disciples here below was closed; it would no more even be renewed after the same manner. They would enter spiritually into the power of His death, and would be one day anew with Him in joy in the kingdom of His Father.
In Luke, this is expressed in a manner a little different. It is said: “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come”; and of the passover: “I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Here the things are much more left in general forms, because it is not occupied with the order of the dispensations of God on earth, but with the moral principles which are bound up with the introduction in grace of the new man.
In Matthew 26:53 we have a circumstance which belongs particularly to this Gospel; it was just the right of Jesus, as Messiah, the Son of God, to have angels at His disposal. In chapter 27:25 we have the solemn and frightful execration which this poor blinded people pronounces on itself, and which still weighs upon it to this day—an execration which will nevertheless be blotted out by grace, and the power of this same blood which they shed in their blindness, and which refers specially to the subject of this Gospel: “His blood be on us, and on our children! “Terrible words! O what then the heart of blinded man! Their entire apostasy from their position is more plainly delineated in John, who, besides, always presents them thus, “We have no king but Caesar,” say they. Here it is their chastisement, as a nation, from the hand of God, which they invoke upon their head. They are owned in chastisement. Compare Isaiah 40.
If the reader compare the account Luke gives us of this moment so solemn to us all, he will find that there they are the moral circumstances which are related; here, those which refer to the degradation of the Messiah. The daughters of Jerusalem lament over Him; His prayer for His murderers, the conversion of the thief are found in Luke. If we examine John, we find the details of the sufferings omitted. The Spirit has there kept that which brings out the dignity of Him who traversed in grace, and according to the glory of His person, whatever might be otherwise His humiliation, those painful but precious moments,29 precious for the present, as well as for eternity; for it is with the glory of His person, as Son of God, that the Gospel of John is specially occupied.
I will not pause longer on these circumstances, but I invite my brethren to meditate upon them. The more we are penetrated with them, the more also our poor and feeble hearts will appreciate the Saviour whom we love, but whom no one knows as He is worthy of being known. There are yet, in this chapter 27, the circumstances of verses 52, 53; circumstances important in this respect, that they bear testimony to the manner in which the Spirit of God treats Jerusalem, as being the holy city, when it is completely abandoned as regards the judgment of God. It may be forgotten for a moment, trampled under the feet of the Gentiles; but if the eye of God takes cognizance of it, in His eyes it is ever the holy city. The bodies of the saints come out of their graves after the resurrection of Jesus, and enter into the holy city. The death and resurrection of Jesus had abolished for heaven the middle wall of partition; but this does not hinder it (though, as regards His government, God had given up to chastisement the holy city, because it was not holy) from always keeping in His eyes that position; for He has chosen Jerusalem, and He will not repent of it. The same thing is seen in Daniel (compare especially chapter 9): faith thinks and speaks always thus.
We have in this chapter the account of the service which the angel renders to the Messiah, as also some remarkable circumstances to point out. The evangelist in no way occupies himself with the greater part of the details of the forty days that ran out after the resurrection. Each Gospel is the deposit of what refers to a special aim of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of Christ is diverse.
The only thing recounted by the Lord here is His interview in Galilee with His disciples, an interview which sets them in the position of testimony which He left them as Messiah, now the depository of all power in heaven and on earth. The invention of the unbelief of the Jews to keep their minds still in blindness is related to us. This is all that remained to tell of the Jews as a nation, so that if we take away the last feature, we have only this: the angel says to the disciples to go into Galilee, that they may there see the Lord. Jesus says the same thing to the women, in order that they might tell it to the disciples, now “His brethren.” There had He been continually with them during His life; there the light was to have appeared for the time of distress; there the Messiah found a refiige at the time of the pride of Jerusalem (compare John 4 and all the history of the Gospels); the disciples were themselves of that country. All the associations of Jewish ideas, as regards the relations of the disciples with Christ in the midst of the Jewish people, were there. He had acted on Jerusalem, but this was now closed. He had been rejected. The law will go out from thence, when He shall have returned in power. “There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer”; but for the time He had done with Jerusalem as regards His Messianic testimony. Further, it must be remarked that the ascension of Jesus is not related here, but solely His relations with His disciples, relations continued after His resurrection and upon this principle, that all power is given unto Him in heaven and on earth.
The Lord has already renounced Jerusalem, saying that it should see Him no more till it repented. Jerusalem, or at least its chiefs, had cried, His blood be on us, and on our children. He takes no more cognizance of it here for the moment; in principle, His disciples were the remnant of the people. As acting from on high, He sends the gospel to Jerusalem; but it is the subject of Luke’s Gospel, and of the book of the Acts, which is the continuation of it (see Luke 24:46-53); it is there the grace of heaven, which kept to the promise of the Holy Spirit. Compare Acts i:1-9.
Here it is the power of Messiah already rejected at Jerusalem. The apostles were to go and instruct all nations, baptizing the disciples in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded, and He would be with the apostles even unto the end of the age. Let us examine a little their mission according to these words, comparing it with those which were given them in the other Gospels.
Here are the terms of these diverse missions. In Mark, who bears testimony to the ministry, to the service of Christ in the gospel, it is said to them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Here is the most simple, the most general mission, and it is added, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It was quite simply the preaching of the gospel for the salvation of souls, and the judgment of those who would not believe.
Here is the mission in Luke, the gospel which gives us grace, which introduces the new man and Christ in this character, “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” Here it is intelligence and power, this last being the consequence of the exaltation of Jesus on high, and the disciples being bound to tarry at Jerusalem until they were endowed with it. As witnesses of Jesus, the disciples could not depart from the place of His rejection until they were linked with Jesus at the right hand of God, and thus, by the power of the Holy Ghost, bore testimony from Him, as being there above. A thing wholly new! it was the Son of man proceeding from Adam in a certain sense, but a new man and near to God: also, a new testimony is borne and recommence: with Jerusalem—a testimony which thence shall reach men in all nations, according to the power of the Holy Ghost. It is a heavenly testimony. This, as we have said, is resumed in the Acts, God having been forced to recommence it with Paul at Antioch, because of the incredulity of Jerusalem once more reiterated.
In John 20:21, we find their mission. Jesus says to them, “Peace be unto you! As my Father has sent me, even so send I you; and when he had said this, he breathed on them and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Here the thing is closer. Jesus is not yet ascended on high, but He has, according to the power of the resurrection, the life of God in Him; put to death as to the flesh, quickened according to the power of God in Spirit, He communicates to them life according to the power of the Spirit. Vitally they are one spirit with Him; for it was as man that He possessed it, although He was the power of God. Thus God breathed into the nostrils of Adam, and he became a living man. Now the last Adam is a quickening Spirit, but as He, according to the power of this life, has been sent of the Father, administrator, as man, of the pardon that man quickened by Him needed to possess to be in relation with God (compare Luke 5:20, 24), so now He sent His disciples, made partakers by Him, and with Him of this life, to discharge from Him this office, to bear this pardon to men, and to render them partakers of it; a pardon which, by His death and resurrection, was now completely effected before God, and administered on earth according to the power of the Spirit of life, whether in receiving into the church those who should be saved, and who, being thus received, possessed this pardon; or whether, in the second place, in administering discipline. This administration of pardon received and possessed, following the exercise of this discipline, by him who is the object of it, is in the hands of every man in whom Christ has breathed His Spirit according to the degree of the power of this Spirit in him. And the pardon here spoken of is not a pardon looked at as granted in heaven, but a pardon administered on earth and ratified in heaven.
The apostles did that according to the perfection of the gift of God which was granted them; but we have in the word the revelation of this so important administration, according as it has been communicated to all the saints by the order of God. First, individual charity covers thus a multitude of sins; that is, in pardoning the wrongs in my brother, his sins no more exist, with regard to the government of God, as scandals and offences in the church: before His eyes love has completely displaced them. Such is the individual privilege; but this is not yet the official administration of the thing; on the contrary, it anticipates the exercise of it.
In the examples of Ananias and Sapphira, and even of Simon the magician, sins were retained. They were remitted—I say not in the same manner, but de facto—to three thousand persons on the day of Pentecost. In 2 Corinthians 2:10 we have the sins remitted by the apostle and by the church, officially, in the exercise of discipline. That is, we have, as to this pardon, the apostolic mission, distinct from the church—a mission specially confided to the apostles, as delegated of Christ with His authority; and the administration of this pardon, communicated to a church without intermediary, the church counselled and directed in this administration, but accomplishing the act herself.
I should not have enlarged so much on this subject, if this passage did not present a difficulty which often pre-occupies the mind, and of which adversaries lay hold while the faithful do not very well know how to answer. It is then not only the pardon of sin granted by God Himself, according to a truth revealed by the Holy Spirit; it is an administration of this pardon confided to man, a pardon thus revealed on earth, confirmed perhaps, and sometimes demonstrated, by miracles, or accompanied by a deliverance or a chastening sent from God. It was an administration confided to the apostles, who were sent to gather the church introduced into her privileges by this pardon; and afterwards exercised by the church herself to maintain her members in the holy enjoyment of these privileges, and at the same time to sustain the glory of God. In the fact of chastening, where the question is neither of pardon in the sense of which we speak, nor of the official act of pardon, but simply of the efficacy of prayer; compare James 5:14, 15.
I do not in any wise touch the question, What has been the effect of the actual state of the church on this administration? Apostolic delegates of this kind, there are absolutely no more. As to all the rest, it is a question of intelligence and spiritual power; but it is important to understand enough of these things to be ready to answer the pretension to forgive sins, of men who would allege, perhaps without scruple, the verses of James, of which we speak, which do in no wise belong to them.
Doubtless, God, by His grace, will keep the simple from such pretensions, and that from other motives; but it is well to have an answer. The Lord has meant to say something, and if we know what He meant to say, men cannot lead us astray and shut our mouths to make us fall into their snares. There is pardon administered here below, whether by apostles, or by the whole body; and a priest or a minister has nothing at all to do therein. If he is wise enough to give spiritual counsels, it is well; but it is not he who acts. The Holy Spirit is needed for this act. “Receive ye the Holy Spirit; to whomsoever,” etc. The judgment of a body which flows not from that is perhaps a very suitable act for a human society, but which is not pronounced on the part of God; and if one speaks of acting by the Holy Spirit, this will be demonstrated in other things also.
I return now to the mission given in Matthew, having only considered the others in order the better to seize the difference. It is not here then the Son of God, sent from the Father, who sends, according to the power of life which is in Him, disciples to whom He can communicate the energy of this life, that they may accomplish their mission according to His heart of love filled by the Father. Neither is it Jesus, minister of the gospel, servant of all, sending those who are to replace Him, that every creature may hear the good news, Which can now be addressed to them in His name who has fulfilled all things—such is the Jesus of Mark.
Neither is it the Son of man, raised to the right hand of the Father, who is about to give the Holy Spirit of power, in order that His sent ones may answer, in their work, to the exalted position that man occupies in His person (compare Psalm 68; Eph. 4), and who has already30 opened their understanding that they may understand the scriptures, or the revelation of the thoughts of God, in the economies and dispensations on which this work and this presence of the Holy Spirit will cast their light. That is the exalted Christ of Luke, giver of the Holy Spirit.
But here, in Matthew, we have a rejected crucified Messiah, who, for the moment, abandons Jerusalem to its folly and its sin, and who, now risen, sends to the nations the message that His death, His resurrection, and the gift of the Father to Him risen, have enabled Him to put into the mouth of His disciples a message (no longer suitable to the Jews, who have already rejected the subject of it, their Messiah). It is no longer simply the only true God in His unity, surrounded by a people which should have kept this good and precious deposit. Now, other things in God had been put in the light for men, things which opened the door to the Gentiles, or rather which could be sent to them. Christ could not be there without the Son being named, and if the Son, then the Father and the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit, who acted with efficacy in the communication of the knowledge of the Father and of the Son); and, on the other hand, both the Father and the Holy Spirit had been necessarily manifested in Christ and His acts, while He lived and acted on earth; for in being Messiah, He was also Son, and it was because He called Himself such that the Jews rejected Him.
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, all this could be sent in grace to the Gentiles. The disciples were to make them know the Messiah and the God of the Jews in this manner, or to make them enter into relation with God under this name, as by circumcision the Jews were put in relation with the Eternal or Jehovah; and this because all power was now given to Jesus in heaven and upon earth. Here is then (the rights of the Messiah being rejected by the Jews) not the establishment of the throne of David, whose influence should spread over all the earth, but He who, depository of all governing power in heaven and on earth, sent His disciples to put the Gentiles (nations) in relation with God, according to the revelation of that which was no longer hidden behind the veil from the eyes of the blind Jews, the Trinity of persons which faith recognised by means of Jesus: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.31
But this mission depends on the power of Jesus as being given, and is to subject the nations that they may be His disciples, according to the claims that this power conferred on Him. It was a mission belonging yet to the age, which, though the Messiah had been rejected, was not yet terminated; it looked consequently at the submission of the Gentiles to the Messiah, in a new way, it is true, and left Jerusalem aside, because it had rejected the Messiah; but it supposes a going forward in the ways of God towards the end of this age, before which the gospel is to be preached in the whole habitable world. Those who carried this message might have higher privileges, which would be made evident when the Lord would be removed, and their first testimony rejected; those same messengers, individually, might be charged, from the commencement, with the message of the grace which was in Jesus, according to the other forms of mission that we have seen in the three other Gospels: they might preach the gospel to every creature, beginning at Jerusalem as representatives of Him who was exalted at the right hand of God, or remit the sins, on the part of Him who said, “Peace be unto you”; but it is none the less true that the speciality of the mission found in this Gospel is a mission to the nations from Jesus, speaking as the rejected Messiah, who has now all power, leaving aside Jerusalem, and mentioning the continuation of this age; promising to be with the witnesses to the end of this age, and saying nothing, either of the church, or of heaven, or of the Holy Spirit given, or of the deliverance from this present evil age, or of the privilege of not being of this world as the Son of God was not of it; but speaking of subjecting the Gentiles to the ordinances of Christ, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to bring the age to its close, according to the promise of Him who should be with them till then.32
That this might have an application to the unreported labours of the apostles, I doubt not; but the Bible furnishes us with no tokens on that head, at least if it be not, in the most indeterminate manner, in the last verse of the Gospel of Mark. That which the detailed history of the Acts presents us with is the fulfilment of the mission given in Luke, the rejection of the messengers at Jerusalem, where they nevertheless remained; then the labours of Peter in the midst of the Jews, and a new apostle raised up of God, to carry the word to the Gentiles by a new revelation of Jesus, so new indeed that he says, if he had known Jesus as the others had known Him, he knew Him no more after that manner. The salvation preached remained ever the same, without doubt, but with new light which God accorded.
What is the conclusion which one should draw from all this? It is, that there will be an accomplishment of this mission before the end of the age, and that the message of the gospel, here entrusted to the remnant, to the disciples, will be carried from Christ, of whom it remains always true (whatever be the state of things) that all power is given unto Him in heaven and on earth. From Christ, I say, acting in this character, the message of this same gospel will be carried to all the nations, and Christ will be with the messengers even to the end of the age.
The testimony to Jerusalem will be different, it seems to me; we have already said some words on it in chapter 24. I do not speak of the conversion of such or such a Jew to make part of the church, which is another thing far more precious; it is the duty of each day to teach them, according to what is given us, as it is also to preach the gospel to every creature. But as there will be a testimony at the beginning of the sorrows (as there was one in the Jewish nation at the beginning of the gospel), a testimony which will be particularly addressed to the Jewish people; so there will be a special testimony borne to the Gentiles at the end, according to the principles of the mission here entrusted to the disciples. For the promise of the presence and succour of the Lord is not only bound up with the idea of the age, but it extends to its end, and we must always remember that here, as in chapters 13 and 24, “the age” in no way applies to Christianity as an epoch. Though Christianity might happen, and did happen, before the end of the age, the age already existed at that moment, and was in a great measure run out; it was a period of the world’s history in the Jewish point of view, which the presence of the Messiah was to terminate.
Perhaps, employed in all the force of the term according to the circumstances in which the Lord spoke, this expression supposes Jerusalem existing but rejected, and, though rejected, the object of the thoughts of God, but of His thoughts in judgment, God going to put an end to all that, and after great tribulations, to restore the city in blessing by the coming of the Messiah in glory. The gospel, sent to the Gentiles, might run independently of all that, for Jesus entrusts it to the disciples outside Jerusalem, and as having abandoned it. Nevertheless, till it was judged and restored by the coming of the Messiah, and after the repentance of its inhabitants, the age could not end; so that when we have well considered the passages, we have here a gospel or mission of the disciples, independent of Jerusalem, from Messiah rejected here below, but having received all power in heaven and on earth; a gospel addressed to the Gentiles, Jerusalem being abandoned, to make of these nations disciples of Christ in the name, not of Jehovah, but of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; a mission, nevertheless, which (though independent of Jerusalem and coming from Christ, who had quitted it until it repent) is identified with the course of an age here below, which supposes, before its end, Jerusalem the object of God’s thoughts and judgments (that is, Jerusalem under the Jewish point of view), and the centre of all His thoughts, in judgment or in blessing, whilst this same gospel is propagated among the nations. For before the end of the age (supposed here by the Lord to be still in existence) Jerusalem will be all that anew (as it was so at the time the Lord was speaking), and yet more. It is a gospel, then, which may subsist among the nations at the same time that Jerusalem is the object of God’s thoughts, and anew the centre of all His ways.
One may suppose that the preaching of this gospel begins before that is manifested. Nevertheless these were the circumstances in which the Lord already was speaking. Jerusalem standing, abandoned,33 the object of the thoughts and judgments of God, and afterwards of His blessing; and Christ awaiting the time of this end of the age, sending the gospel to the nations by His disciples, independently of Jerusalem, but by the side of its existence in this state, and transporting Himself, as to the term of the testimony, to the epoch which should terminate this state of things in Jerusalem, by the manifestation of the judgment of God and the blessing which should thence ensue and flow out. We have already seen (chap. 25) the Gentiles judged on earth, according to the manner in which they shall have treated the messengers which Christ calls His brethren, as Jesus here calls His disciples, and we have seen the preliminary and final circumstances in Palestine and at Jerusalem (chap. 24), accompanied by a declaration (by the side of all that) that this gospel of the kingdom should be preached in all the world, as a testimony to all the Gentiles, and that then the end will come—the end of the age which is in question here. I invite my brethren to think of this testimony, which is to be borne in the latter days; it would be to explain prophecy rather than the gospel to pursue this subject farther here. I desired to point it out, as this Gospel does so.
Here is the result of my researches at this time upon this Gospel; a result very imperfect, I feel, and researches which have made me feel how far we are still ignorant of all the ways of God; but which may aid my brethren to make others, perhaps, more happy and better followed up; and, if they are led to make them and are as happy as I in thus sounding the ways of God, I shall not have lost my trouble in communicating to them these, such as they are.
In the main, I do not doubt that the great principles, the thread of the ways of God (in this part of His ways) are found in these pages, and that, as a whole, it was given by Him. It is very possible that in some details my own mind has wrought, and that thus I may have overstepped the measure of what was given me; in this case there will certainly be error, or at least obscurity, even when all I have said is understood. On the other hand, those who have not yet taken the trouble to sound the scriptures ought not to be astonished if they find some things still difficult and obscure for them in these pages. They ought not to be discouraged, like a child who should plunge into the middle of a book which he ought to begin, and which he might judge too difficult; but they should set about the work, beginning with the beginning. They will find, let them be assured, many proofs of their ignorance, and very humiliating proofs; but they will also find the Lord with them, and a joy and a satisfaction of which they have not even the idea, not in the things only, but in the fact of being taught of Him; a joy and satisfaction which sanctify and attach to Him who deigns thus to be busied about our instruction, to endure with patience our ignorance, and to instruct us Himself in the truth. And how sweet is this converse with Him, in which He gently leads us on in the knowledge of His ways and unveils for us in His word all the goodness and wisdom of His counsels! Is it not evident that such converse, pursued in such a spirit, must sanctify the soul?
Let us remember that all this belongs to children, to those who, by the power of the good news of the pure grace of God, are grounded in the work which this grace has accomplished, and rejoice in the confidence which His love inspires; the communications of His ways being for them daily proofs of this love, which nourish and maintain this confidence, and make them to know better Him, who is its object and source. May His Spirit and His grace direct all those who read these pages in the enjoyment of the everlasting salvation which He has accomplished for us!
1 [The first part of these notes was originally given as an exposition of Matthew 13, and was so published, translated from the French. But, as even here the esposition gives a general sketch of the preceding chapters, and as I am enabled to add a version of the notes on the chapters which follow, I have ventured so to modify the title as to suit the paper as a whole. The early part dwells only on chapter 13.—Ed.]
2 When Satan cannot prevail to withdraw the believer from the path of obedience, he begins to act upon his adversaries, and to excite them to opposition and persecution. Jesus retreats before this rejection thus began, and hence becomes the centre of light and blessing, in the midst of the distress of Israel, according to the passage quoted.
3 I believe this will be verified in the idolatry of the Jews under Antichrist, in the last days.
4 It is a principle which Popery completely destroys, by putting the church and the acknowledgment of its authority before the reception of the word under individual responsibility, while still, in the end, it leaves to every man his own burden. It is the church making war against God, and not the fruit of the blessing to which man is called.
5 In the three first, it is the actual result of the seed in the world. In the three last, it is the powerful motive which governed the heart of him who was led by this motive according to the secret of God.
6 My object is not controversy, but exposition of the parables; nevertheless, I must here add a word on the value of an interpretation often put upon this parable. That there is a mixture of Christians with the world is a matter of fact.
Many take advantage of this parable to justify themselves, or at least to say that we cannot root up the tares or exercise discipline. In the world-church this may be all very true; but, in the first place, if any one would reason thus to prove that the world-church system is good (for its existence is allowed as a matter of fact), such an one professes as a Christian to be willing to bring down the church on earth, in principle, to the level to which Satan has reduced it in fact; which is enough to convince me that one who has the glory of Christ at heart will not lend himself for a moment to such an idea. Again, when I find the whole is bad, I do not begin by rooting out the tares from this evil system; that is what they would do who stay there and would try to purify it. I do not quit the field; I cannot do it, for “the field is the world “j but the evil which I did I cease to do. I am still corn in the tare-field, I have not touched the tares; I have only as a Christian corrected my individual walk in some respects, and am thus separated by the fact itself from those who persist in the evil. If I can unite myself in peace with others to find the presence of Jesus according to His promise, so much the better; it is a great blessing. But I do not enter upon that question. My object is only to expound the parable, avoiding what is a mere sophism.
7 The rapture of the church belongs to this age, to the harvest, to the end, but to this age, as to its time. It seems it will appear in another age.
8 The first act here regards the wicked, the tares. In the case of the net, the first step was to separate the good. Because, in the case of the tares, it is the exerior of the government in the world, the present result; in the latter parables, the motives and the spiritual discernment; although the judgment arrives at last afterwards.
9 The righteous shining as the sun shews us how these parables apply at the same time to Christ and to believers. He gives up His earthly glory, despises the shame, and endures the cross, in view of the joy that was set before Him; but this necessarily involves the church seen in glory according to the counsels of God:—the righteous will shine. We see our own glory in the sun to which we shall be like. In the two cases there is the glory. “The glory which thou hast given me, I have given them,” so that He, while yet looking forward to it for Himself, gives up all His Jewish and even personal glory, in a certain sense, as of right, to bring the church in there; in a word, He gives it up for the church. We, seeing that glory as ours, see it in Christ; and so in the application of the parable, we may say, Jesus has done it for the church as His treasure—we do it for Christ as our treasure. The counsel of God is, that we should be together in that glory.
10 Although the great principle of giving up all for Christ is a true one (and we have already spoken of it), we cannot apply the details of this parable to the history of an individual soul. A soul is never called on to buy anything to have the treasure; but to seek to have nothing except it. In fact, in the history of souls, something similar often occurs; that is to say, one embraces Christianity, true Christianity, with a joy which seizes all in an indiscriminate manner, so to speak. The soul possesses in effect the true treasure, but has not yet at all discerned the whole beauty of this exquisite pearl. The joy then becomes in appearance more subdued, but the spiritual perception of the thoughts of God is far more real and deep.
11 All this does not by any means affect the question of the conduct or the duty of a saint in these circumstances. The parable only presents the thoughts of God in regard to facts. This was the form which the kingdom would take, or rather a figure which represents it. The purchased field is quite an abstract thought; we are always in danger of confounding it with the actual state of things, while the parable only presents to us the principle. I have endeavoured to avoid this snare, but am not sure that I have succeeded. In principle, Christ has bought the world, and the church is in it. His authority only extends to a very small part of the world; and one part, formerly subject to His authority, has now even revolted from it; but the parable does not at all touch upon these facts. It only presents the principle, that is to say, that there is a treasure hidden, which was not even bought but found, and something external was bought for the love of this treasure, thus hidden there, necessarily, and as a matter of fact; whether the treasure exists as an individual whole, or in several pieces, is not the question here. The purchaser takes the whole, such as it is, for the sake of the treasure. The delight which He finds in the beauty of it (the church) is the subject of this parable. Here it is the fact of the field purchased as a whole, that He might possess the treasure that was dear to Him. Neither is it a question of the establishment of the authority of Christ in blessing in this world, nor of His joy in the deliverance of the creation itself. That will take place in the world to come, when there will no longer be a question about the mysteries of the kingdom. This mystery of God will be finished; the natural results of the reign of the Saviour will be manifested, also the beauty of the church will be manifested on high; and its glory will shine everywhere.
12 I give these expressions here according to their force in the Greek: “According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and without blame before himself, in love, having predestinated us to the adoption to himself by Jesus Christ, … to the praise of the glory of His own grace.” Again, verse 8, “Having made known to us the mystery of His own will, according to his own good pleasure which he purposed in himself,” and, verse 11, the “counsels of his own will.”
13 In chapter 8:23-27, where the state of the church rather is marked, Jesus goes into the ship with His disciples. Apparently He pays no attention to the danger; but their unbelief makes them afraid, as if Jesus, who had identified Himself with them, could perish, and with Him all the counsels of God.
14 The true translation of Daniel 9:26.
15 The transition from the position of Messiah to that of the Son of man is very striking in this Gospel, and this last title has always in view the future glory of Christ, though He was the Son of man in humiliation already. The province of His rule, and all the thought which is bound up with it, are of a far larger extent than that which is bound up with the title of Messiah. We have seen the church founded on the confession of the Son of God, because there is found the life whereby it lives and the principle of its relations with the Father; but, as Son of man, Christ is the heir of man, and that according to the counsels of God as regards man, and not only according to the extent of the dominion of Adam. It is quite another idea and another position from heir of David, whatever may have been His glory in this character. (See Psalm 8.)
16 This beautiful passage, from chapter 21:28, to 22:14, depicts with astonishing exactness all the ways of the Lord with respect to the Jews and their ways. The second invitation to the Jews, after the death of Jesus Himself, is there presented. When God could say in all its force, “All things are ready,” it is then that they killed the messengers, as the Lord predicts to them lower down, chapter 23.
17 But this passage is remarkable in shewing how little, in this gospel, the Lord withdrew His own from the position of the Jewish remnant. Among them this direction had no place; to them there were neither scribes nor Pharisees nor Moses’ seat j but he desires to view them in this gospel also, as a Jewish remnant, having, as such, relationship with the nation.
18 Here commences, it seems to me, the bearing more properly historical.
19 See Isaiah 65:22—a passage, however, which seems to confine itself to the elect already in the country; here they are sought from afar. I only quote it for the force of the word “elect” here.
20 For my part, I believe that all the calculations that have been made are without foundation. There may be many very interesting things in the works in which they are found, as I have often found; but the calculations themselves are baseless. I believe there have been analogous things, wherein the principles of evil, which shall break out in the last days, have been more or less developed; but as to the exact calculations, they are based on a false principle, because these dates, in their exact application, apply to the Jews of the last days.
21 We may remark here that the service refers to the house or to those who compose the Master’s household, and the care which ought to be bestowed on them. If it is to those who formed the church, it is at least to them and to their service in its Jewish character, whether as to a body, or in an interior appropriated to the Lord, as this people was in the world. In the parable of the virgins, it is the expectation of grace, the state of those who went forth to meet Him. The third parable is the activity of service with His goods.
22 I believe that if one absolutely wishes to introduce the bride here (and the Lord does not) it is a question about Jerusalem on earth.
23 The difference between this parable and Luke 19, which in the main is the same, is, that there the principle of man’s responsibility is brought much more forward; here, the sovereignty and the wisdom of the Master. There are other things which pertain also to the character of this Gospel, but that is the principal. In Luke each receives cities according to his work; here, all enter into their Master’s joy. That is necessary where individual responsibility is in question. What was important here was to shew that disciples left as Jews would be in the same joy as their Master, when He should return in glory as Son of man, being no longer a Jew, though fulfilling the promises made to the fathers. But His servants should be in the same position as Himself, not as He had left them when He went away, and His joy would be the glory. Yet it would be found also in accomplishing His promises to His people, however it might have been. But the question was not exactly about possessing cities.
24 Perhaps I have not sufficiently brought out this distinction: as Messiah, He came into the midst of the Jews to accomplish the promises made to the fathers, to the family of David, and to the Jews therein; but later on He takes the kingdom in all the extent of His rights as Son of man, to whom the Father had subjected all things. The transition from the one of these positions to the other is often perceptible in the gospel.
25 All the verses, from verse 31 of chapter 24 to verse 31 of chapter 25, are a parenthesis, and contain moral instructions, based upon preceding revelations: the history, or the continuation of the prophecy, is resumed at verse 31, “When the Son of man shall come,” etc.
26 In Luke, which is not so much occupied with the Jews, the Lord shews clearly the judgment which will come on the nation and which He Himself will execute (Luke 19:27). The truth, as a warning, had been already given in this Gospel, chapter 21:44.
27 It is not that He indicates the day. As Jehovah had said to the Lord, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool”; so the Lord said, “Ye shall not see me henceforth until,” etc. The repentance of the Jews is for His heart the sign that He can see them again and that they also can see Him again. Peter gives them the same sign, in Acts 3. “Be converted … so that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send Jesus Christ.”
We see here the importance of the repentance of the Jews as a nation, for thousands since that time have repented as individuals. This repentance is to have respect to the sent One of God, for it is to be repentance for the sin which has caused their ruin and their rejection. They will say, “Blessed is He that cometh!” a word which follows these, “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head-stone of the corner. This is Jehovah’s doing, it is marvellous in our eyes,” Psalm 118. This explains also why the Lord, at His coming, has yet a great deal to do to place the Jews in full peace and prosperity, according to the figure of Solomon. This is because He takes up the Jews where He left them, not such as they were in the days of Solomon, or onward to the captivity of Babylon as with Judah. But He can identify Himself with them; this is what He could not do at His first coming, because they would not. He had besides other things to accomplish according to the counsels of God. Now, when they have repented of their last national fault, and they say, “Blessed is He that cometh,” He can undertake their cause; and this is what He does, and it is not a small thing. The indignation will have ceased; but the thing is to put the remnant-nation in the possession of all their privileges and all their country. It is the work of Messiah when He is there, and of none other. Zechariah, Joel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, speak of these things. There is then the action of the word of God by the Spirit, on the hearts of the Jews, as Jews, before the appearing of Jesus, which action will leave them Jews; and on the other hand, the acts of power, He having recognised the nation, to put them in possession of all their privileges after the appearing. Read Isaiah 50 and 51 for the first of these things and the transition. See Psalms 42 to 49, and Zech. 9. The moment of transition is found in chapter 12. See also Jer. 51:20; Isaiah 41:15, 16; Mic. 4:13; 5; Isaiah 40:10-14.
28 There will be heavenly brethren, our hope and joy: if men will insist on the idea that it is they who are in question here, I contest it not. I express my conviction, formed on the study of all the chapter, and of all the Gospel itself, with the instructions which refer to it; but since there is but the word brethren here, and we all admit that the members of the church bear this name in principle, and that thus it depends on spiritual discernment to apply it, each will judge of it according to what is given him; it is not that I doubt; but I do not insist on the thing in comparison with others. See the last chapter.
29 There is not what is found in Matthew 26:37-45, nor verse 67, etc., nor chapter 27:46, nor verses 39-44, or the parallel passages in Mark and Luke. In place of that, we have John 18:4-9,11; 19:28,30, or in place of “expired,” Mark 15:37, we have “delivered up his Spirit,” John 19:30; it was the act which He did (according to John 10:18), knowing that all was finished.
Compare also chapter 19:7, 8, and the character of all the discourses of the Lord, whether before the high priest, or before Pontius Pilate, in the two Gospels.
30 It appears to me that an example of this is found in the choice of Matthias, before the gift of the Holy Spirit—a choice based on the explanation of Psalm 109; an explanation of which, it would seem to me, the disciples would have been incapable before that time, but the act itself had nothing in it of the power of the Holy Spirit. They draw lots, as Jews, after having understood this Psalm. Though we have received the Holy Ghost, it is of importance for us to distinguish between the understanding (though it were a gift) and power. It is evident, from the end of Luke and the commencement of the Acts, that a person may have the one and not have the other.
31 There was, in this, a revelation evidently much clearer, and relations different from those which the Jews enjoyed, as the people of Jehovah. These terms were not entirely unknown to the Jews j but they were always employed by the prophets in the prospect of the times when there would be this clearer revelation to call the Gentiles, and when blessing would be manifested for the Jews in a new measure. “Kiss the Son” is a summons to the kings of the earth in Psalm 2, and the promise of the outpouring of the Spirit, whether upon the Jews and their posterity or upon all flesh, is sufficiently known. See, amongst others, in Joel; in Isa. 44:3; see also chap. 48:16. Before the accomplishment of these things, or at least before they are fully accomplished to the letter, the revelation has been made of what is their foundation in God, and this name of Father, of Son, and of Holy Spirit has been proclaimed amongst the Gentiles. I do not think that it is here the unity of the Son with the Father, and of the church with Jesus by the Holy Spirit (that is taught elsewhere); but the revelation of the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the submission of the Gentiles by faith, in anticipation of that day when the Son will be manifested in power, and the Holy Spirit fully shed abroad. But this is very precious for us, because it shews us these things in God, and makes us see that there are not only certain acts of manifestation which will take place hereafter, but the truth of God, of which one can speak before these manifestations take place. For the knowledge which the Jews and the earth will have of the Son, for example in His reign according to Psalm 2 is very inferior, it seems to me, to the knowledge which we have of Him, as being in the Father and the Father in Him, one with the Father, hidden in God. It is the same person, undoubtedly, but we have a much deeper knowledge of what He is. Further, we learn, in thus comparing Psalm 2, that the preaching of the name of the Son does not necessarily suppose the blessings of the church: now it does, because God gathers the church in Him; but the call made to the kings to submit to the royalty of Christ in the last times is made in the name of the Son, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.” We have acknowledged Him before through grace, and we know Him as one with the Father. In this Psalm it is spoken of Him as presented to the world in time, “To-day I have begotten thee.”
32 One may examine Psalm 95 (and also Psalms 91 to 100), which treats of these times, as well as Daniel 11:33 and 12:3, 9; Isaiah 65:13, etc., where, however, the testimony is rather practical than in word. Here is the connection of this subject in Isaiah, which may interest those who search the word; and it is only for such that I give it.
God desires to comfort His people (Isaiah 40); and in the midst of present deliverances (pledges of better ones to come), the servant, Christ, is introduced, chap. 42. Israel should have been so, but was blind; nevertheless he should be delivered, being forgiven. Cyrus and Babylon pass then before our eyes, to the end of chapter 48, the pledge of better deliverances, as we have said. God announces, notwithstanding, that He distinguishes the wicked: there is no peace for them.
Chapter 49, the Gentiles are summoned by Israel as called of God to be a servant, in whom God should be glorified. Thereupon the Messiah says, “I have then laboured in vain”; nevertheless His judgment and work were with God. The Spirit answers that it was a small thing to raise up Israel, that He should be a light to the Gentiles. From that time it is Christ, the true vine, who holds the promises as a faithful servant. Chapter 50 explains the dismissal of Israel for the rejection of Christ, Jehovah God who had made Himself a servant; and thereupon is brought out the distinction of the remnant who fear Jehovah and obey the voice of His servant, not here the church in the joy of the Son, though that has been true of a certain number from among the remnant. In these passages the church finds itself only as hidden in the person of Christ Himself; which will be seen in comparing Isaiah 50:8, 9, and Romans 8:33, 34, where the apostle applies to the church the substance of those verses which speak of Christ in Isaiah. I will observe, by the way, that the Lausanne translation, in general very faithful to the letter, has spoilt these verses in the form it has given to them. Here, I believe, is the true contrast. God justifies; who shall condemn? Christ is dead, etc.: who shall separate us from the love of Christ? The Old Testament does not take up the union of Christ and the church: here it is the remnant that obey the voice of the servant of God, of Christ, come as Messiah here below. Nevertheless the obedient walk in darkness. Consolation is given them, a consolation properly Jewish, by calls (chap. 51:1-4, 7), in which there is progress in their position (v. 9). They themselves call, by the Spirit of prophecy, the arm of Jehovah to awake. He answers at last (v. 17), summons Jerusalem to awake in her turn, and (chap. 52) to clothe herself with glory and honour. This passage, ending at verse 12, is all beautiful. Chapters 52:13, and 53 give the expiatory character of the work of the “servant,” recognised by the Jews in the latter days. Then come the details of blessings (chaps. 54, 55, 56, 57), and of the ways of God, and of what hinders, namely, the deep iniquity of the people in the latter days.
From chapter 58, testimony is strongly borne to this iniquity, which finally forces Jehovah to arise (chap. 59:15, 16, etc.), and the Deliverer comes to Sion according to Romans 11:26. Then in chapter 60, Jerusalem is glorified, and the same subject (introducing, in order to identify His person in the two advents, what Christ was at His first, chapter 61:1, and the first half of verse 2), and the judgment of the Gentiles, are treated to the end of chapter 63:6. Then, upon the touching call of the prophet, there is a detailed explanation of all their ways, how grace had seized the occasion, given by the folly of Israel, to be found of those who sought it not, whilst He had ever stretched out His hands towards rebellious Israel (quoted by the apostle, Romans 10:20, 21), which explains these same points. And here, finally, we find a special remnant (all those who are spared; see Isaiah 66:19, 20), treated as the “servants “to whom the blessing of all the nation would be a particular subject of joy. Such is what has led us to this summary of the latter part of this prophetic book: the special remnant owned of God, but having all its affections in the well-being of Jerusalem and of Israel. One may, for the last testimony to the Gentiles, compare Psalm 97 and Revelation 14:6, 7.
The key of this summary of Isaiah 40-48 is Israel the servant:— nevertheless, no peace for the wicked. Christ, the true servant, is rejected. The remnant, true servants, are owned in that; they obey the voice of the “servant,” but in prospect of Jewish interests. Translate chapter 49:3, “Thou art my servant, O Israel, he in whom I will be glorified.”
33 Perhaps there may be trouble to reconcile these two ideas, “abandoned,” and yet “the object of the thoughts and judgments of God”; but it is precisely the position of Jerusalem in the latter days, when His work recommences with the earth. It will be desolate and abandoned until it says, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah!” But God acts with it in testimony, in chastisement, in indignation. Such was already the case in the time of the apostles. In chapter 23 of this Gospel, it was abandoned. Nevertheless the testimony and indignation are there. See upon that, in Zechariah, specially the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12, and all his prophecy; the end of Daniel 9; 11 and 12 also, and Isaiah 65, 66; see also Jeremiah 30:4, 8, etc. In these chapters, and in so many others, Jerusalem is not owned, but it is the object of God’s thoughts and ways; according to the expressions as to Ephraim Jeremiah 31:20, and as to Jerusalem itself, Isaiah 49:14, etc. The fact is that Jerusalem is chosen as the Jewish people. Psalm 132:13,14.
We have a principle which is bound up with this, and which is very precious in its analogy for us. God, at the time of the Babylonish captivity, had written, Lo-Ammi, not my people. Notwithstanding that, in Haggai 2:5 we find that the Spirit remained with them, as when they came out of Egypt. What encouragement for us, whatever may be the state of the church! If they had said, No, we are not in this state of Lo-Ammi, it would have been unbelief; if they had been discouraged, as if the Spirit was not with them, as at the departure from Egypt, it would have been practical unbelief also under another form. In the two cases, faith in the goodness and in the chastisement of God would have been lost.