From THE NUMERICAL BIBLE
DIVISION 4 (Chap. xiii.-xx. 28.) The Kingdom in the hands of Men.
SUBDIVISION 1 (viii. 1-52) Viewed as a Whole.
SECTION 1. (1-35) As left to itself,-- the King absent.
Subsection 1 (1-30): Individual aspects.
Part 1 (1-23): a kingdom of the truth.
Part 2 (24-30): The enemy and the spurious wheat
Subsection 2 31-33): Collective aspects
Part 1 (31-32): in independence
Part 2 (33): the leaven of falsehood.
Subsection 3 (34, 35): things hidden manifest.
SECTION 2. (36-52.) Faith's view.
Subsection 1 (36-43): the beginning of the reign of righteousness.
Subsection 2 (44): Preserved and reserved:
DIVISION 4. (Chap. xiii.-xx. 28.)
The Kingdom in the hands of Men.
We have now come, therefore, to that which directly appeals to us, the Kingdom as we know it at the present time, Israel while refusing the King having necessarily lost it, as the Lord declares to them (chap. xxi. 43). But this involves a momentous change: for the promises concerning it, all contemplated Israel as in the central place of glory and power in that day, the law of Jehovah going forth from Zion and His word from Jerusalem, the glory of God being manifested there, and the Lord reigning openly in power to the ends of the earth (Mic. iv.). These promises still belong to Israel, because His counsel shall surely stand - His gifts and calling are without repentance (Rom. ix. 4; xi. 29). But this being so, either the Kingdom itself must be delayed till Israel is brought to receive the Lord ; or else, it must in the meantime come in in a different manner from that contemplated in the prophets. This last it is which has actually taken place; not, surely, as an afterthought on God’s part, for there is no such thing with Him as this, but on the contrary, revealing the riches of His grace according to counsels hidden, indeed, from ages and generations past, but now to make known to principalities and powers by means of the Church the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. iii. 10).
The whole time of the working out of these counsels is necessarily, therefore, a gap in Old Testament prophecy, and a time of delay as to the accomplishment of blessing for the earth - a blessing which is inseparably bound up with that of Israel nationally. Christianity is indeed universal in its character, the call of the gospel being world-wide - "to every creature which is under heaven" but it is not a call to earthly but to heavenly blessings, and to strangership and pilgrim character upon earth. And this is, so far, only what the family of faith has all along confessed (Heb. xi. 13-16.) Israel’s inheritance nationally is another matter: and here the voices of the prophets unanimously direct us on to such a scene as we have seen Micah picture. Heaven in the prophets is the place of God’s dwelling, but little is known of what is inside, even though Enoch went there, and Elijah went there, in days long since. For us it is opened and furnished; Christ has come out and gone in, and now we know it; and He is coming again to receive us to Himself. Our blessings are in heavenly places in Him; our home is with Himself.
In two different ways people get confused and confuse others, as to things as plain as this. Some, in the enjoyment of what is simple Christian truth today, read their Christianity back into the Old Testament, and can think of nothing else but a heavenly inheritance for all the saints of all times. Some, on the other hand, read the Old Testament forward into the New Testament, and make the earth the final habitation for all. Scripture is larger and more diverse than either understand. The Old Testament outlook is earthly unmistakably, the New Testament revelation is what our Joseph, rejected of his brethren, is telling as the "Revealer of secrets" in the ears of His Gentile bride.
These are the "mysteries," which characterize Christianity, so that the apostle bids us account of his fellow-labourers and himself "as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. iv. 1). The first great mystery is that of Christ Himself - "the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. iii. 16). Along with this, however, and as part of it, we have His whole life here, "justified in the Spirit" - by the descent of the Spirit of God upon Him, - and again by His resurrection from the dead, - "seen of angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory." It is Christ actually come and known in His whole life down here, that is the mystery: not the prophetic picture merely, which certainly and clearly made known His Deity (e. g. Mic. v. 2), but the fulfillment of this in the person of Jesus Christ. Next we may put "the mystery of God’s will . . . to head up," as the word really is, "all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. i. 9, 10) - the Headship of Christ over the (new) creation. Then we have "the mystery of the Christ" - not simply of Christ personally, but that in Him "the Gentiles should be joint-heirs, and a joint-body", a body formed of Jews and Gentiles brought together, - "and joint-partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. iii. 4, 6). Then the mystery of Christ and the Church, His Bride (Eph. v. 32). Then the mystery of "Christ in you" (Col. 1. 27). The change of the living concurrently with the resurrection of the saints at the coming of Christ (1 Cor. xv. 51), the present blinding of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles is come in (Rom. xi. 25), even the "mystery of iniquity" working out in Christian times, (2 Thes. ii. 7), and which the woman "Babylon the Great" bears as a brand upon her forehead (Rev. xvii. 5). - all these are "mysteries" connected with the Christian dispensation, hidden, therefore, in Old Testament times (Rom. xvi. 25; Eph. iii. 5; Col. i. 26): secrets made known to those initiated into Christianity.
It is not the place here to inquire further into these: none of them are mentioned as such in the Gospels; but we can see that in them the essential and distinctive features of Christianity are to be found. In that part of Matthew to which we have now reached, such secrets begin to be told out; and according to what we have seen to be the theme of this Gospel, they begin with the "mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven," - the Kingdom in the new form which it acquires by the rejection of the King, and His consequent absence from the place of His Kingdom. He reigns indeed, but on the Father’s throne (Rev. iii. 21), - a higher place, and which manifests His glory as the divine Son: none could sit upon such a throne but He; still it is not His human throne as Son of man. The Kingdom is administered for Him in His absence by His servants, and the fashion of it, therefore, greatly changed. In a parable in Mark, the Lord compares it to a man casting seed into the earth, and seeing it no more till the time of harvest: it springs up and grows, he knows not how (Mark iv. 26 - 29). This is already significant as to the possibility of failure. Left in the hands of men, we know, only too well, what man is. Divine wisdom and love cannot really be baffled; and yet we must be prepared for this seeming to be so.
These mysteries of the Kingdom speak of "things that had been hidden from the foundation of the world" (verse 35), and he that is now discipled unto the Kingdom of heaven has, therefore, in his treasures things "new" as well as "old" (verse 52). Of the bringing together of these the parables that follow here will give us decisive proof.
SUBDIVISION 1. (xiii. 1-52.)
Viewed as a Whole.
The history of the Kingdom is given us before the principles. It was necessary to have clearly before the eye the character of that to which the principles apply. And more especially is this so because of the opposition between the Kingdom in its initiation and in its after-development, which the history so clearly shows, and which would naturally raise question of their application altogether, if this contradiction were not accounted for.
On the other hand, the veil of parable is thrown over the whole; and the Lord’s explanation of the reason of this (verses 11 - 13), while applying primarily to unbelieving Jews, has in it most important principles of far wider application.
History given beforehand, as One alone is competent to give it, is given, not to gratify curiosity about the future, but as practical wisdom for the wise in heart, that the servants of the Lord may find the path wherein to walk and to serve Him (Rev. i. 1). Exercise of conscience will be needed to understand it, far more than grasp of intellect, and we need not wonder at diverse interpretations. Yet the Lord expects us to be able to see clearly through the veil (Mark iv. 13) and without certainty no application can be safely made: Scripture must first of all be for "doctrine," in order that it may be for "reproof; for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. iii. 16).
Matthew gives us here seven parables - the usual number indicating completeness. In some sense, surely, they are designed to give us a perfect picture of the Kingdom, but in what sense we are not entitled to decide without examination of the whole series; which is divided by difference of place and audience into four and three, the usual division of a septenary series. Four are spoken to the multitude upon the seashore; the last three to the disciples in the house. The numbers concur with the circumstances to lead us to expect in the first four a more external, in the last three a more internal and spiritual view. The explanation of the second parable has its place also with the three.
SECTION 1. (1-35.)
As left to itself, - the King absent.
The first four Parables also are plainly susceptible of another division. Four is often divided in Scripture into 3+1; and in this way is significant of what is good: the number of the creature (4) resolves itself into the numbers which speak of divine manifestation. On the other hand it may divide into 2x2, which as true division seems generally to have in it an evil significance. The four parables here divide in the latter way: the first two giving individual aspects - the wheat and the tares; while the last two give us the collective aspect, the seeds gathered, as it were, into one seed ; the leaven permeating the meal. We shall see as we go on, the importance of these divisions.
But the character attaching to the whole four parables may first of all be emphasized. The series as a whole has been already spoken of as applying to the Kingdom in its present "mystery" form ; but we shall find that in fact only the first four parables develop this - the fact that it is a Kingdom left to itself - the King absent. This certainly does not characterize in the same way the last three, inasmuch as in two of them we find the figure of the King Himself. The man who in the one sells all that he has to buy the "field" - if the interpretation of the second parable hold good here ("the field is the world") - can be no other than the Lord. And then also the similar action of the merchantman who buys the pearl must surely point out the same blessed Person. Here, then, we are in another line of thought to that of the first four parables. Of course, this waits for confirmation or disproof upon a closer examination.
Subsection 1 (1-30):Individual aspects.
The first two parables are in evident contrast with one another in this respect: in the first we have the various success - as to three parts out of four we must say the ill success of the good seed. In the second we have the enemy and the bad seed. Even thus far, it seems to be a picture of decline that is before us; or at least, the scene in the meanwhile grows darker and not brighter; and the tares remain, we are authoritatively told, until the harvest. But let us now take up the parables in detail.
DIVISION 4. (Chap. xiii.-xx. 28.) The Kingdom in the hands of Men.
SUBDIVISION 1. (xiii. 1-52.) Viewed as a Whole.
SECTION 1. (1-35.) As left to itself, - the King absent.
Subsection 1 (1-30): Individual aspects.
Part 1(1-23): a kingdom of the truth.
1.1 On that day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside And there were gathered unto him great multitudes, so that he entered into a ship himself and sat down; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some [seed] fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured them. And some fell on rocky places, where they had not much earth; and forthwith they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth; but when the sun arose, they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them. And some fell upon good ground, and yielded fruit, this a hundredfold, this sixty, this thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear.
And the disciples came and said to him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? And he answered and said unto them, Because unto you it is given to know the ‘mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but whosoever hath not, even that which he bath shall be taken away from him. Therefore speak I unto them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, In hearing ye shall hear, and not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for this people’s heart is grown fat, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have longed to see what ye behold, and have not seen them, and to hear the things that ye hear and have not heard them.
Hear ye, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom and understandeth it not, the wicked one cometh and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received seed * by the wayside. But he that received seed* upon the rocky places is he who heareth the word and immediately with joy receiveth it; but he has no root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when affliction or persecution cometh on account of the word, immediately he is stumbled. But he that received seed* among thorns is he that heareth the word, and the care of this life† and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that receiveth seed * on the good ground is he who heareth the word and understandeth it, who also beareth ‘fruit and bringeth forth, this one a hundred-fold, and another sixty, and another thirty.
*Literally, "is sown." usually "age," but its oldest meaning (in Homer) was "life."
Part 1(1-23): a kingdom of the truth.
1 The Lord goes out of the house and sits by the seaside. He has just declared the principle which carries Him outside of Judaism. The doers of His Father’s will are now alone to be His kindred. He leaves therefore the house, the sphere of natural relationship, and takes His place by the sea, the figure of man in the restlessness and barrenness of nature, of man apart from God, and so of the Gentiles. The concourse of the multitude, instead of detaining Him, hastens His departure: He enters into a ship and sits down there - takes His place definitively in separation from them.
He speaks to them indeed from this new place that He has taken, but He speaks in parables. The nation as such is given up to hardness of heart: there is no use in increasing their condemnation by more light. And yet the very addressing them shows that all are not given Up. "Blindness in part is happened to Israel:" if there are those who have earnestness of heart to penetrate within the external form they shall find still a gracious heart that heats towards them. The national rejection leaves individual responsibility where it ever is. He that hath an ear, as the Lord tells them, still may hear.
Yet behold, a Sower is going forth to sow; and here is a decisive change. Israel had been God’s vineyard planted once and enclosed and nurtured by God’s unforgetting love. That had now long been given up: the fence had been taken away; the boar out of the woods had wasted it; the people had long been scattered. Still, though this were so, the end had not then been reached: after seventy years a remnant had been permitted to return to the desolate land, and a "fig-tree" had been "planted in the vineyard" (Luke xiii. 6). But this, too, had now failed to bring forth fruit; if such was to be found, there must be a fresh labour of the husbandman and in fresh fields: the sower must go forth to sow.
There is not now the planting of vines or fig-trees, but what better suits the character of work among the Gentiles, - the broadcast sowing of seed. Are we not to think also of our Lord’s words, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone" (John xii. 24) and to realize the new form of the gospel which would follow that death of His now coming so plainly into sight? Its being, as the Lord in His interpretation calls it, "the word of the Kingdom" does not hinder this; for the apostle shows us in the epistle to the Romans (x. 9-13) the gospel of the Kingdom in its present form, as based fully upon the death and resurrection of Christ. Death and resurrection both we have, wherever the seed springs up; and that is what we are called to watch now where and with what final result the seed springs up. What success in its world-wide sowing is the word of the Kingdom now to have?
We are at once made aware that it is not world-wide success we are to expect from it. First of all, we see in the seed received by the wayside, the hard, unreceptive heart, hardened like the road by the constant traffic of the world, so that the seed never really finds lodgment in it. True, it is said to have been "sown in his heart," and that is a solemn thing. It is what the apostle’s words imply, where he speaks of "by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. iv. 2). And yet he goes on immediately to speak of those to whom his gospel is hidden, "in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of those that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." These two things are easily reconcilable, and we can see that the case here is quite similar to the first one in the parable, where the "birds of the air" are interpreted by the Lord as "Satan." In the parable the word has first been sown in the heart: Satan could not prevent that. It has made its appeal to the conscience, commended itself as truth to it, been sown in the heart for acceptance or rejection.* Conscience commends it, but that is not faith; in which always the personal will is concerned. Conviction is not acceptance. The soul may tremble, Felix-like, before the truth, and yet refuse it: the seed after all lies outside; and now comes Satan’s work, - the god of this world blinding the minds of those that believe not, Satan catching away that which was sown in the heart, but which the heart has not accepted. Those may well tremble who have not been true to what they could not but recognize as truth: for here Satan has his opportunity with them, and he never fails to use his opportunity. Well he knows what blessedness lies for them, contained in what they so lightly refuse. His business is to prevent their knowing that - to hide the glory of Christ from those who might be attracted by it.
* Compare Rom. x. 8. 9: "the word is . . . in thy heart: that is, the word of faith which we preach; that if thou . . . shalt believe in thy heart," etc., The "heart" in Scripture is not necessarily the affections, as we generally take it, but the man himself, the real man.
For Christians also the same principle holds good. For every truth in the word of God has to he accepted thus in the soul or rejected, and we are tested by it as to how far we also are "of the truth:" "every one that is of the truth heareth" Christ’s "voice" (John xviii. 37). Not of mere ignorance, but by the refusal of truth, have all systems of error flourished and been built up. And how few, alas, comparatively are there who have not admitted some darkness into their souls by the lack of perfect absolute uprightness before God in every particular! And in some respect it is always the glory of Christ that is thus hidden. What need have we to be cleansed according to His mind that we may have (as He desires for us) "part with Him."
Here, then, in this first failure of the good seed, the opposition of Satan is manifest. We are at once made aware that it is in a world which lieth in the wicked one that the Kingdom of heaven (in this new phase of it) is to be found. Man’s responsibility is carefully maintained; but, alas, he is a fallen being, and manifests himself as such: the world, the flesh, and the devil are but too fully united in opposition to Christ. This may be detected even in the first case: for the heart has rejected the truth, and the world’s traffic has hardened the heart, and Satan has only taken away that which was unwelcome. But each element of opposition must be fully shown, and we go on to see other forms of it in the seed upon the rocky ground, and that sown among the thorns.
Rocky ground it is, not stony: bed-rock, with a slight layer of earth over it, in which the seed grows rapidly but superficially, the very cause of its destruction in a little while, operating at first to produce hot-house growth: "forthwith it sprang up because it had no depth of earth;" by and by the sun growing hotter scorched it; and, because it had no root, it withered away.
Here it is the nature of the ground that is at fault. In the case of the wayside hearer it might be urged that circumstances had made him what he was: the traffic over it had made the ground hard. Here it was the nature of the ground itself. The prophet - or rather, God by him - speaks of a ."heart of stone" (Ezek. xxxvi. 26); and this, without any question, is exactly pictured here. Yet there is earth also, a superficial susceptibility, which promises largely at the beginning: "he heareth the word, and immediately with joy receiveth it" this is, as the parable states, a sign of a lack of depth. There has been no deep conviction, no true repentance: the sentiments are engaged, but not the conscience; and such an one may be warm and enthusiastic, and make rapid progress in the learning of truth; but he has not counted the cost: "when affliction or persecution ariseth because of the word, immediately he is stumbled."
This is the flesh at its fairest; capable of coming so near to the kingdom of God, and all the more manifesting its hopeless nature. There is the unbroken rock behind that never yields itself to the word, and gives it no lodgment; and the class of hearers pictured here are born of the flesh only, and so only flesh. Let things be outwardly favourable to profession, it is plain that the number of these may multiply largely, and may stick like dead leaves to a tree that has no rough blast to shake them off. But life is none the more in them.
There is still a third class of the unfruitful, and in these the influence of the world is paramount. The seed sown among thorns represents those in whom the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word. Poverty and riches, as Agur long before noted (Prov. xxx. 8, 9), are seen here as alike unfavourable to spiritual life. Yet riches may entice the poor, and care weigh heavily upon the prosperous rich man. The deceitfulness of riches is so great a snare that the Lord has elsewhere said that the rich man could hardly enter into the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. xix. 23). But He expressly guarded this from any implication of its applying to salvation, as if salvation (when men sought that) were different for different classes. Of those who realize their need of salvation there is but one class: "Christ died for sinners" covers every case. But if it be a question of men seeking after it, the more they have to satisfy themselves with here, the less real is eternity likely to appear. How many have the interest awakening within their souls stopped by such things as these the day will declare.
And so one part alone out of four of the good seed becomes fruitful really. Not, of course, that this is to be taken as numerical proportion. One fears, indeed, that any reckoning in this way would give less satisfactory results rather than more; but we must leave this with Him who "knoweth them that are His." At any rate we know well that the success of the good seed is partial; and with those in whom it does bring forth fruit, there are still various measures of fruitfulness; "one a hundredfold, another sixty, another thirty," says our Lord. The devil, the flesh, and the world, are the unchanging, untiring foes of all that is of God, and the true people of God have no discharge in this life from this war.
In this first parable, then, we see the beginning of the Kingdom to be in the sowing of the word of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is, ideally at least, a kingdom of the truth (John xviii. 37). The subjects are "disciples" (ver. 52). How far the Kingdom being in the hands of men may affect this we have yet to see; but even as we find it already, we find in it unreal disciples as well as true; and this the after-parables confirm. The sphere of the Kingdom is profession, a profession which will be in due time tested by the fruit it bears. There is no undue haste to realize this: the picture is that of a field of growing wheat, as to which the harvest alone can properly decide what the fruit may be; and the harvest itself is not yet spoken of. Manifestly it is a kingdom introduced in a very different way, not merely from any Jewish conception, but from anything that the prophets had announced. Thus it is of the mysteries of the Kingdom that the Lord is speaking. Of the sower himself we do not hear: it is upon the seed that our attention is fixed, and whoever sows that is the sower. Thus it might be the Lord Himself in His work on earth, although the Kingdom does not begin till the end of the Gospel* (xxviii. 18); it might be any one afterwards. In the sense in which the second parable speaks (ver. 37), where ever the good seed is sown, the Sower is the Son of man: personally or by His agents, it is all one sowing.
*Which is probably the reason why this parable does not begin, as the others do, with "The Kingdom of heaven is like" — The eleventh verse guards against any mistake resulting.
2 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed * darnel among the wheat, and went away. Now when the blade shot up and produced fruit, then appeared the darnel also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence, then, hath it darnel? And he said unto them, An enemy hath done this. And the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather it up? But he saith, Nay; lest when ye gather up the darnel, ye root up also the wheat with it. Let both grow together till the harvest, and in the time of harvest I will say unto the reapers, Gather together first the darnel, and bind it in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.
* Literally, "oversowed."
Part 2 (24-40): the enemy and the spurious wheat.
2 The second parable now shows us the work of the enemy to defeat, as far as he may, the work of Christ. Satan as the prince of the world, which has rejected and cast out the true King, will not receive now His Kingdom; and he is permitted to work without the curb of manifest power to restrain him. It is the "kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ," as the apostle at the beginning of Revelation fittingly reminds us (chap. i. 9); and Satan remains throughout, not only the "prince of this world," but the "god" of it (2 Cor. iv. 4). The expression used in the last passage is, in fact, much stronger than even this: it is "the god of this aion" or "age"; which shows conclusively, therefore, what the "spirit of this age" must be. It shuts out hope of any effectual change of this until the Lord comes and Satan is shut up in that prison (Rev. xx. 1 - 3). in which so many, who ought to be wiser, suppose him to be already, but which will be then a more effectual restraint than even these can persuade themselves is upon him now.
Yet it is not by persecution of the saints that we see Satan acting in this parable. He has practised this often enough, and always will, as far as he can realize that the time is favourable; but he knows, too, and that by plentiful experience that the "blood of the martyrs is" apt, at least, to he "the seed of the church." and he has found for his purposes what is a better way. This is the way of imitation, "as Jannes and Jambres," in Egypt long since, "withstood Moses (2 Tim. iii. 8), counterfeiting God’s miracles with lying wonders; and such is his method in the parable before us now.
The good seed has been sown and is growing up: the "word of the Kingdom" preached has developed into "sons of the Kingdom;" so far, we have just what the previous parable has put before us, the effect of the sowing of the good seed only. The work of the enemy cannot be accomplished by sowing seed of the same kind: he sows darnel in the midst of it, and goes his way. Such "over-sowing" is today in the East a common piece of malice; and darnel is a poisonous kind of rye, which among the Jews was credited with being a degenerate wheat: its grain is black and bitter. Thus it is evident that we have not here false profession merely, but error and its fruit: at first, deceptive and appealing at any rate not very different from the truth, but by and by developing radical opposition. The dissemination of this is accomplished "while men slept," a thing that shows an evil state among the "children of the day," however natural it may be with others (1 Thess. v. 5 - 7).
Notice that, throughout the New Testament, if the flesh is opposed to the Spirit, and the world to the Father, the devil is the constant enemy of Christ, and the perversion of the Word and the denial of the Person of Christ are his special work. As Christ is the truth and the true Witness. Satan is "a liar, and the father of it" (John viii. 44). The tempter of Christ in the wilderness, he enters into Judas for the betrayal at a later time. He it is who "deceiveth the whole world" (Rev. xii. 9). and who is cast into the bottomless pit to deceive the nations no more until a thousand years are fulfilled. At the end of this time, being let loose, he again goes out as of old to deceive, and is then cast into the lake of fire (Rev. xx. 3, 8, 10).
The "children of the wicked one" in the parable are thus those who are the offspring of his deception, by whom he seeks to antagonize the truth. And the New-Testament epistles give us plenty of proof of such a state of things already begun a good while before the canon of inspiration was completed. It is not needed to do more than refer to this. They show us how insidiously the "mystery of iniquity" began its work (2 Thess. ii. 7), which, however it might be hindered, would never cease until the "wicked one," energized by Satan, should be destroyed at the appearing of Christ (ver. 8). Thus the darnel would remain until the day of harvest, no human hands being competent to accomplish the separation of Christian profession from it. After many centuries now, we are all clear, whatever may be our standpoint, that this separation in fact never has been attained.
But we must remember, however, that it is of the Kingdom that the parable speaks, and not of the Church or Assembly, of which we have not heard, in fact, as yet. A large mass of Christians make no distinction between these, although here it should be plain that "the field is the world" - the Kingdom in its present phase, the profession of Christianity in the world, or what men call Christendom; and we have no capacity, authority or responsibility to purify Christendom after this fashion. But, if we are truly Christians, we have responsibility to purge out from our assemblies "all things that offend, and those committing lawlessness" the thing which the angel-reapers alone can do as to the profession at large.
Rome has taken in hand, and insists upon her authority to anticipate the time of harvest; and the state-churches, following her, have feebly and spasmodically attempted the same thing. Necessarily that has followed which the Lord declared: with some darnel, they have rooted up the wheat also, and indeed this most of all. Yet the prohibition, to these Jewish disciples of the Lord, (taught as they were by the Old Testament to expect the kingdom of Messiah to be an open display of judgment upon transgressors,) would naturally be a mystery indeed; and so to those who confound the New with the Old Testament. But the Lord recognizes fully the coming of the judgment. It is only delayed, not set aside. Evil is allowed in the meanwhile to manifest itself: in the time of harvest, He will say unto the reapers, "Gather together first the darnel, and bind it in bundles for the burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."
We shall find that the Lord in His interpretation carries this further: the darnel is actually burnt, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. This we must look at in its own place. At present we have only the preparatory work with the darnel, which is bound in bundles with a view to its being burnt; and then the wheat is gathered into the barn. The last is clear enough: it speaks of the removal of the true saints to heaven; but the binding of the darnel in bundles is not so clear. It cannot refer to the associations now so characterizing the days in which we are, except we take the ground that harvest-time has already begun; and indeed it does begin, as is plain, before the saints are taken home. If this were true, it would show the end very nigh. The multiplication of associations, the prevalence of the principle more and more, every one must admit. We should look for it to take a form which would more and more gather the false and shut out the true, while at present true and false are sadly mixed together. With the growth of infidelity so manifest as it is today, this might very quickly result. Even the religious associations are swallowing up the churches, and taking their work into their own hands; and all things move to-day with marvellous rapidity, as the stream grows quicker near the bunk of the precipice.
Subsection 2 (31-38): collective aspects.
2. The two parables that follow differ strikingly from those that have preceded them, and agree together in this, that we have no longer individuals before us but the mass. In the grain of mustard seed the many grains of the wheat field are massed together: the "sons of the Kingdom" are no longer seen, nor indeed the "sons of the wicked one," but a general condition - I believe we may add, resulting from their mixture. The "woman" of the second parable here, the common figure of the professing church, gives us in this the collective aspect, and not the leaven, nor the three measures of meal. This we must examine fully in its place; and as to both parables there has been sufficient disagreement among interpreters to make us look carefully at every step we take. Nor have we as to either of them the help in this way that the Lord gives as to the first two.
All the more thankful we may be, therefore, that the second parable has already carried us on to the time of harvest, mournful as it is to realize that it is thus settled without possibility of successful question, that the evil result of the oversowing of the field of profession with false doctrine never will be repaired, - that the crop, as a crop, is very much spoiled, however much the good wheat still reproduces its own likeness. But this, at least, assures us that the parables to follow cannot alter this: they cannot take away the certainty of the failure of things in man’s hands which the whole history of time past declares. We have indeed but. shown ourselves all along the road the too faithful imitators of our first parents in the violation of every trust that God has committed to us. One might perhaps have hoped that, with the new power of Christianity, a new history might have begun for man; but, on the contrary, every feature of Israel’s history has been reproduced in that of Christendom. It is even a proverb that "history repeats itself." Prophecy and history unite to assure us that as to this Christianity is not an exception to the rest.
2. 1 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is less than all seeds, but, when it is grown, it is greater than herbs, and becometh a 1tree, so that the birds of heaven come and lodge in its branches .
Part 1 (31, 32.): in independence.
1 The parable of the mustard-seed is similar to those that have gone before it in its being the growth of a living thing that is brought before us, but that which is to be remarked in it now is its disproportionate growth, in which it seems to overstep the limits of its nature. The round seed of the mustard was used proverbially among the Jews for the smallest of things, which it was relatively to the other seeds they sowed. Its development in the East in favourable places is indeed in conspicuous contrast with its growth elsewhere. But the question is raised at once, Is the world, then, a favourable place for the growth of a kingdom "not of this world," and where the devil and the flesh unite with the world in unceasing opposition to it? Either the world must (measurably, at least,) cease to he what it is. or the seed must change in some respects its character, for the Kingdom of heaven to take its place among the kingdoms of the earth: and this is, in fact what the parable shows.
"And the general meaning," says Edersheim, "would be the more easily apprehended, that a tree whose wide-spreading branches afforded lodgment to the birds of heaven, was a familiar Old Testament figure for a mighty kingdom that gave shelter to the nations. Indeed it is specifically used as an illustration of the Messianic kingdom."
He refers in the first place to Ezek. xxxi. 3-6, where we have the picture drawn by God Himself of the Assyrian power: "Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, . . . all the fowls of the heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations." In Daniel we have a similar picture of the Babylonian in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which is interpreted by the prophet (chap. iv. 20-22): "The tree that thou sawest, which grew and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight therefore to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the air had their habitation: it is thou, 0 king. who art grown and become strong; for thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth."
The likeness here to the "tree" of the parable cannot surely be doubted: it is a figure of earthly greatness that is pictured. And yet it cannot but be remarked that there is not in the parable after all anything like the greatness of the Assyrian or Babylonian empire. The passage in Ezek. xvii. also, to which Edersheim refers as picturing the Messianic kingdom, - in fact, the resurrection of the house of David in Messiah’s day, - still represents a cedar, the stateliest of trees, under which "dwell all fowl of every wing, and in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell." But this speaks of a future time, and a very different dispensation.
The tree of the parable is a garden shrub out-doing itself. It grows into a tree, and the birds of heaven lodge in its branches; but if you look at this as divine increase, it will naturally be asked, why then is there nothing more glorious than this? As growth it is dubious, and the mention of the birds of heaven cannot but remind us that the birds of heaven carried away the good seed in the first parable, and that the Lord’s interpretation is, "Then cometh the wicked one." Great Babylon, the figure of a professing Christian body in guilty connection with the kings of the earth, becomes "a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Rev. xviii. 2). If we remember that this seed and its development give the Kingdom as a whole, and that the previous parable has shown us a mixed condition in fact, the result of’ the enemy’s work, then the anomalous tree becomes perfectly intelligible. The state of the whole has been affected by this mixture of diverse elements. There has resulted from it what we know as Christendom to-day. Christianity has been more or less assimilated to the principles of the world; the world, in consequence becomes more favourable to the adulterated Christianity. The shrub grows - overgrows - its nature, if you consider what its character is as defined at its first beginning. A people unknown by the world (l John iii. 1), and strangers in it (1 Pet. ii. 11), followers of One it crucified, and crucified to it by His cross (Gal. vi. 14), not of it, even as He is not of it (John xvii. 14), become a people well-known, honoured and at home in it. Nay, they acquire the right to rule, and like their predecessors at Corinth, "reign as kings" (1 Cor. iv. 8), quite without fear of apostolic rebuke for it. Yet after all, the spiritual and political interests can never become so accordant that the tree shall assume the dimensions of full imperial power. The woman may ride the beast, but even so these are diverse. Alas, this political Christianity is more powerful to corrupt the Church than to elevate the world, and she that rides the beast is but a painted harlot. It passes the subtlest imagination to conceive how what is "not of the world" can become of the world and yet retain its character. The birds of the heaven are wiser: they understand their claim upon the abnormal tree for lodgment, and find it there.
The Kingdom is now, in the form it has taken, in independence of its King. To the Corinthians the apostle could say, "Ye have reigned as kings without us:" they were not in communion any longer with men "appointed to death," for their sufferings "a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men." "I Would to God," he says "that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you." If the saints reign now, they are still reigning without the apostles. Time can make no difference in this respect, so long as it is still true that all the saints are not reigning together. And that time will not come until the Lord takes His own throne as Son of man, - a human throne that He can share with others. True, He reigns now, but on His Father’s throne, which no mere man can ever sit upon (Rev. iii. 21); and He reigns, distinctly, as rejected by time world: "Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool" (Ps. cx. 1). Thus the saints cannot reign now, except in unfaithfulness, in independence of their Lord Himself. The tree is thus anomalous, and the condition evil.
Part 2 the leaven of falsehood.
2 Another parable spake he unto them, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
2 A worse thing follows, which clearly connects with what precedes it here: "The Kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
Here the explanations ordinarily given are so generally in contradiction to the truth, that it will be well to look at them more particularly before attempting to develop this. Edersheim gives thus briefly the generally accepted view: -
"To this extensive power of the Kingdom [as shown in the Mustard-seed] corresponded its intensive character, whether in the world at large or in the individual. This formed the subject of the last of the parables addressed at that time to the people - that of the Leaven. We need not here resort to ingenious methods of explaining the ‘three measures,’ or seahs, of meal in which the leaven was hid . . . To mix three measures of meal was common in Biblical, as well as in later times (Gen. xviii. 6; Judg. vi. 19; 1 Sam. i. 24). Nothing further was therefore conveyed than the common process of ordinary, every-day life. And in this, indeed, lies the very point of the parable. that the Kingdom of God, when received within, would seem like leaven hid, but would gradually pervade, assimilate, and transform the whole of our common life."
Alford’s view is similar, but he adds: -
"Leaven has its good as well as it bad side, and for that good is used: viz. to make wholesome and fit for use that which would otherwise be heavy and insalubrious. Another striking point of comparison is that leaven, as used ordinarily, is a piece of the leavened loaf put among the new dough, just as the Kingdom of heaven is the renewal of humanity by the righteous Man, Christ Jesus."
Lange still adds: -
"The woman is an apt figure of the Church. Leaven, a substance kindred, yet quite opposed to meal.- having the power of transforming and preserving it, and converting it into bread, thus representing the divine in its relation to. and influence upon, our natural life. One of the main points of the parable is the ‘hiding,’ or the mixing of the leaven in the three measures of meal. This refers to the great visible Church, in which the living gospel seems, as it were, hidden and lost. It appears as if the gospel were engulfed in the world; but under the regenerating power of Christianity it will at last be seen that the whole world shall be included in the Church."
Trench remarks: -
"In and through the Church the Spirit’s work proceeds; only as that dwells in the Church is it able to mingle a nobler element in the mass of humanity, in the world. The woman took the leaven from elsewhere to mingle it with the lump; and even such is the gospel, a kingdom not of this world, not the unfolding of any powers which already existed therein, a kingdom not rising, as the secular kingdom, ‘out of the earth’ (Dan. vii. 17), but a new power brought into the world from above: not a philosophy, but a revelation."
This is a sufficiently full account of the most widely accepted interpretation; and, if not absolutely harmonious in detail, as presented by these different writers, it is still as much so as it would be reasonable to expect, and has in itself a very reasonable appearance. From the Scriptural point of view, however, it must be judged; and it has been often pointed out that in this way there are insurmountable difficulties to our receiving it.
In the first place, it is contrary to the general tenor of the previous parables. After all that has been before us, we do not expect a change so sudden and complete as this seems to involve. If the three measures of meal speak of humanity in general, or the world, the progress of the leaven is distinctly declared to be, till the whole is leavened." But the other parables, from the very first one, are entirely against this; and the whole witness of prophecy as to the Christian dispensation. To apply it, as some would, simply to the work of regeneration in individuals, destroys in another way its harmony with the series of pictures of which it forms a part, all of which give us the public and general history. "Three measures of meal" seems a strange figure for the world, and the "measure" seems not realizable. Not that this would be a weighty objection with the many who deprecate any particular attention to such minutiæ as they would consider this. For such, a general resemblance is all that one need expect: which would leave in result a large uncertainty of interpretation, and Scripture to the reproach of many unmeaning words.
The signification of "leaven" in every other passage in which it is used is a great difficulty also. The Lord applies it to the "doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (chap. xvi. 12), and to their hypocrisy (Luke xii. 1). He speaks also of the "leaven of Herod" (Mark viii. 15); the apostle again of the "leaven of malice and wickedness" and of "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. v. 8). Twice we are warned how "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor. v. 6; Gal. v. 9). That very piece of old dough which Dean Alford interprets so strangely of the Lord’s humanity, the apostle applies in quite another manner, when he bids the Corinthians "purge out, therefore. the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump," and this where he is interpreting the Old Testament feast of unleavened bread in its connection with the passover, and which must remind us how absolutely leaven was to be excluded from every "offering of the Lord made by fire" (Lev. ii. 11).
It will be urged in answer to this that it is the Kingdom of heaven itself which is here compared to leaven, and the Kingdom of heaven cannot be evil. But we have to go no further than these parables themselves to perceive that this objection cannot be sustained. In the very next one, if we interpret in a similar way, the Kingdom is compared to the treasure which a man found, but in that which follows, not to the pearl which corresponds to this, but to the merchantman who seeks it. Evidently, the whole parable it is which is the similitude of the Kingdom, and not separately either treasure or finder: and this is completely confirmed upon examination. *
*See also chap. xviii. 23; xx. 1.
In this way, too, it will be seen that, while the Kingdom of heaven cannot indeed in itself be evil, it may still be in an evil condition. This series of parables have surely exhibited in it a steady growth of evil, which in that of the mustard seed affects the form which as a whole it takes. We may naturally expect, therefore, to find here this development going on; and if, as Edersheim and others truly say, the leaven in contrast with the mustard-tree gives us intensive character rather than extensive growth, then we may expect to find this inward character affected now in a way corresponding to the outward form before. And this is in fact the meaning of the leaven: it is an energy, but alas, of evil from without, which transforms the character more and more of what it works upon, and completes the sorrowful picture of decline at which we have been looking. From this point of view also, all the details of the picture assume significance, and give a definiteness of meaning to the whole which vindicates the parable from the reproach of ambiguity or of useless verbiage.
The safest of rules that we can have is to let scripture be the interpreter of scripture. Now, if in carrying this out we ask ourselves, what leaven put into the meal may mean, we are at once reminded of the meat or meal-offering, as to which it is distinctly said (Lev. ii. 11): "No meat-offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven . . . in any offering of the Lord made by fire." If then this be the application here, at once we see that the parable falls into line with the previous parables in this that it continues that thought of evil and opposition to the Word which they all more or less exhibit. The woman is doing what the word of God prohibits: she is putting leaven into the meal-offering.
But what, then, is the significance of this? A terrible one indeed: for the meal-offering speaks, as these offerings in general do, of Christ as the food of His people, of which they partake in communion with God (see Lev. ii., notes); and thus we see that to bring in the merely natural thought (whether it be true or not) of the wholesomeness of leavened bread, as Alford does, is most misleading. God insists upon the feast being kept to Him with unleavened bread: all mixture with leaven is adulteration; and if the Church, as Trench with Lange and others rightly say, is intended by the woman, then the professing church here seen as adulterating the pure doctrine of Christ, the bread of life, with impure admixture.
"Three measures of meal:" does that add nothing to the significance? Is it merely, as Edersheim says, the usual quantity, and is that what his texts suggest? Not, surely, to one who is accustomed to see the New Testament in the Old, and to read the histories contained in it, as the apostle does that of Abraham (Gal. iv.) as types and prophecies of spiritual things. In this way it is most instructive to observe that Gideon’s ephah of flour, which is the equivalent of ‘three measures" was offered to the Lord; and that Hannah likewise brought her ephah to the house of the Lord in Shiloh. The third case he adduces (and the only other) is still more in point: for Abraham’s food with which he entertains his heavenly visitants was undoubtedly overruled, at least. to show us again Christ in His Person and work (three measures of fine meal and the calf-life sacrificed) as the means of communion between heaven and earth.* "Three measures" are the full divine measure, God in manifestation, and that is the right measure surely of the true Meat-offering, the Man Christ Jesus.
*These are not random or fragmentary applications, but have their place in a history completely significant throughout, in which by the significance of the whole each part is certified see Gen. xviii. notes).
How all this brings out what is before us! Christ, the bread of life, is what the professing church has had entrusted to her for her own sustenance and for the blessing of others. The doctrine of Christ is her most precious deposit, and the maintaining this in purity her great responsibility. Alas, she has adulterated it with leaven: the Lord’s own explanation of this as "the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" and the "leaven of Herod," remains still for us in Christian times as wherewith to interpret His parable of the Kingdom. Formalism, ritualism, rationalism, the corrupting tendencies of world-pandering Herodianism, have all had their share in perverting the precious doctrine of Christ. And here distinctly the "woman’s" form appeals in that which Scripture itself stamps as "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth" (Rev. Xvii.), she who, claiming to be emphatically the "CHURCH," at the same time assumes the power of adding to it her own authoritative interpretations. Doubtless she is not alone in this: others have followed her more or less distinctly, in claiming to give the "voice of the church," whether in the "catholic" or some lesser form. In whatever way this may be done it is an intrusion upon Christ’s office as the only "Master* and Lord;" and wherever it is done, some kindred evil will spring out of it. Christ’s voice, and that alone, must be authoritative for the soul.
*"Teacher" (John xiii. 13).
The leaven is leavening the whole lamp. No doubt, there is a present hindrance to this in the power of the Spirit working, and as long as the present purpose of God is not complete, the lump as a whole cannot be leavened. God will preserve His truth, which never has been as a whole allowed to be in the woman’s hands to be leavened. Once let the true Church be removed, the truth of God will he removed with it, and the leaven of falsehood do its fatal work upon all that is left.
Subsection 3 (34, 35): things hidden manifest.
3 "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitudes in parables, and without a parable spake he nothing unto them: so that that was fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables: I will utter things that have been hidden from the foundation of the world."
3 With this the parables spoken to the multitude are ended: and except in parables He did not speak to them. The prophet’s word was being fulfilled in Him (Ps. lxxviii. 2): He was taking the place of another Asaph, to speak of things more deeply hidden than those of which Asaph spoke. The psalmist’s words therefore are not exactly but freely quoted: his deep things were contained in a past history, the meaning of which it is given to him to utter; Christ’s in a history of things to come, but which mournfully reflect in their general lesson that older story of another people. Alas, man’s history does repeat itself: now, however, it was of a state of "things hidden from the foundation of the World" - of which the prophets of the Old Testament themselves knew nothing. Subsection 3(34-35): things hidden manifest.
SECTION 2. (36-52.) Faith's view.
The Lord now leaves the multitude and goes into the house: the audience is changed, and He is now with His disciples only, and able to speak out. He does now give them the explanation of the parable of the darnel, carrying it further also than the parable itself had done. But to this he adds three other parables, the third of which He partially explains, but not the others. We are left to spiritual apprehension to discern these.
Between these last three and the first four we shall find the difference which the numbers indicate. Four is the number of the world, and they are spoken in the world - before the multitude. We find in them, in fact, what we can see to be the external aspect of things, - the Kingdom in the form which it has taken manifestly, even though those who see it may discern little of its import. In what is said to the disciples in the house we shall find what is for those of the present time only spiritually discerned, - what is not public fact, but either lies beyond Christian times, or else is of such a nature as only to he understood by those who have learned it from God, from His word. It is faith’s view, then, that we now are to be occupied with, and it need not be a strange thing to us to find that we have very different interpretations to consider, and which it will be necessary to consider seriously, before we shall be entitled to speak with conviction upon the subject.
Subsection 1 (36-43): the beginning of the reign of righteousness.
1 "Then, having sent the multitudes away, he went into the house; and his disciples came and said unto him, Explain unto us the parable of the darnel of the field. And he answered and said, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world, and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the sons of the evil one are the darnel; and the enemy that sowed it is the devil; and the harvest is the completion of the age, and the reapers are angels. As then the darnel is gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the completion of the age. The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those committing lawlessness, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears let him hear."
1 But first of all we have what is itself an explanation. The interpretation of the parable of the darnel finds its place with the last three parables, and for this there must be some special reason. It would not be enough to say, it is an interpretation; for the Lord had before this explained that of the sower apart to His disciples, without reserving it for the after-teaching in the house. The true reason seems to be in that which is manifest in it, that it goes beyond the parable itself, and therefore beyond the end of the Christian form of the Kingdom of heaven. It presents, therefore, what must be to us as long as we are down here a matter of faith simply: and thus it comes into the second section here, and finds its place with the last three parables.
The parable ends with the gathering of the wheat into the barn. The saints of the present are removed, while the darnel, the fruit of Satan’s sowing, is left in the field - in the world; bound in bundles for the burning, but not burnt. It is noticeable that there is nothing else but this mentioned now. There are no mere lifeless professors, but only the followers of false doctrine, - the reason for which is an unspeakably solemn one,, as explained by the apostle in the second epistle to the Thessalonians: the mere professors will be swept off by that "strong delusion" which will come with the apostasy of the last days upon all that "have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved" (ii. 7-12). The public judgment here is upon those in manifest rebellion, not upon what is hidden but what is manifest. The words in the epistle are decisive as to this.
It is with what takes place after the saints are taken home that the interpretation of the parable has mainly to do: "As then the darnel is gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the completion of the age. The Son of man shall send His angels, and they shall gather out of His Kingdom" - it is now His Kingdom, He is not simply sitting on the Father’s throne - "all things that offend, and those committing lawlessness, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father."
Notice the contrast: the Kingdom of the Son of man below, the Kingdom of the Father above: the righteous reign in the Kingdom of the Son of man; they shine in the Kingdom of their Fattier. The Sun of righteousness is risen upon the earth; and this is why the righteous shine as the Sun: they are with Him, sharers of His glory; not suns - central, independent orbs, - but lustrous with the glory put upon them. But this carries us, as is plain, beyond the present form of the Kingdom, as also we shall find the parable of the net does. For us, to whom all these parables of the Kingdom belong, it is a matter of faith alone. The numerical symbolism stamps this, I doubt not, as what it so plainly is, the beginning of the reign of righteousness.
Subsection 2 (44): Preserved and reserved:
2 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in the field, which a man having found, hath hid, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field."
2 We come now to two parables which ought, by their evident likeness to one another, to render mutual help in their interpretation - the parables of the treasure and the pearl. They are commonly understood by Christians as portraying in somewhat different ways the value of Christianity or of Christian blessings, and the need of sacrificing all else in order to secure them. But we must take them separately.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in the field, which a man having found, hath hid, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field."
An old note of Luther gives what is still the common view: "The hidden treasure is the gospel, which bestows upon us all the riches of free grace, without any merit of our own. Hence also the joy when it is found, and which consists in a good and happy conscience, that cannot be obtained by works. The gospel is likewise the pearl of great price."
"True Christianity," says Lange, "is ever again like an unexpected discovery, even in the ancient Church: the best possession we can find, a gift of free grace. Every one must find and discover Christianity for himself. In order to secure possession, even of what we have found without any merit of our own, we must be willing to sacrifice all; for salvation, though entirely of free grace, requires the fullest self-surrender."
He is naturally perplexed, however, about the purchase of the field, to get the treasure. His solution of the difficulty is so strange that it can only be of value as showing to what strange methods people have to resort to interpret consistently: "If ‘the field’ refers to external worldly ecclesiasticism, the expression might mean that we were not to carry the treasure out of the visible Church, as if we were stealing it away, but that we should purchase the field in order to have full title to the possession hid in it. Accordingly it would apply against sectarianism." It is hardly worth while to go further.
In fact the interpretation is scarcely scriptural in any part. A man like Luther may speak of "buying" the riches of free grace, and so, no doubt, does Scripture; but it never speaks of selling all that one has to do it. God says rather, "Come ye, buy wine and milk without money and without price." And the Lord does indeed say, "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke xiv. 33); but He has taught us elsewhere how to understand all such expressions, and that the would-be disciple does not by this "buy" the grace of God, but must receive that grace first to enable for such whole-hearted discipleship. Not "whosoever will lose his life," in order to find it, but he who does so "for my sake, shall find it" (chap. xvi. 25). For "though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Cor. xiii. 3). Love must be the motive power, or there is nothing that can count; but then we cannot love in order to gain for ourselves by it: there is but one way of acquiring it, and that is, as flame lights flame. So love alone kindles love: "we love Him, because He first loved us" (1 Jno iv. 19).
To sell all that one has to buy the free grace of God is not according to the gospel: that alone wrecks this interpretation; but, if we inquire further, What is the "field" that is bought to get the treasure? the Lord has Himself answered, not with Dr. Lange that it is "external worldly ecclesiasticism" - a strange thing indeed to buy at such a cost! - but the "world." simply the world. That is the field in which the Word is sown, clearly; ecclesiasticism may spring up in it, but only after the sowing, and must always be a very different thing. But, if "the field is the world," are we to sell all we have to buy the world, to find the gospel in it? That is mere absurdity, of course.
This interpretation breaking down, then, it only remains to reverse the order of thought, and find in it the Saviour seeking the sinner, instead of the sinner seeking the Saviour. Divine love is first and worthiest: and then how the central figure here shines out! He went and sold all that He had - "emptied Himself," as the word in Philippians literally is (ii. 7, R. V.): "though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. viii. 9). Texts are easy enough to find in this direction, and simple enough, too, in application. Here is a view of the Kingdom which lies outside of the range of the first four parables, as the continuation of the second parable does, but antecedent, not consequent to them. But it is the foundation upon which all rests, and which could not be omitted from faith’s view of things. It is the fundamental view of the Kingdom itself, and now its being the field of the world that He buys, instead of being out of place, or difficult to understand, is most exactly accordant and most perfectly intelligible. "Even denying the Lord that bought them" is said of those who bring in "damnable heresies," and bring upon themselves swift destruction (2 Pet. ii. 1). They are not, therefore, of His redeemed (for redemption involves the forgiveness of sins, (Eph. i 7,) and is much more than purchase); nor of the treasure, therefore, for which He buys the field; but they are purchased, as all the world is purchased, and He is Lord over them: the word used here being not the usual title of authority, but "despot" or "owner."
The world, then, belongs to Him, and the treasure He has found in it, and for which He buys it, must be His people, who are therefore His purchased ones, the people of His possession (Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. ii. 9, Gk). Yet there are still points of difficulty about this parable, if we apply it to Christians now, as is usual and natural with those who accept the interpretation which we must believe to be the true one. For, according to this view; neither the (implied) first hiding, nor the finding, nor the re-hiding of the treasure is accounted for, and even the buying of the field does not seem fully explained, though the meaning of it in itself is clear enough. But beyond all this the parable that follows it, so similar, and which yet cannot be so close a repetition of it as it appears, needs explanation. We must go on, therefore, to this and compare the two together, before we can get a satisfactory view of the whole matter.
Subsection 3 (45, 46): His own and for His glory.
3 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman, seeking goodly pearls; and when he had found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
3 Here "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman, seeking goodly pearls; and when he had found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
Such interpretations as those of Lange need not long detain us, since they are but slight variations of what we have, in the case of the former parable, already rejected. "The following points," says Lange, "are plain: he who obtains the Kingdom of heaven is no longer represented, merely as a fortunate finder, but at the same time as an untiring searcher. He is consciously seeking and striving after goodly pearls, of precious spiritual goods. At the same time what was formerly described as a treasure is now characterized as a pearl of great price: it is presented in a concentrated form as the one thing needful, bright and glorious in its appearance, i.e. the person of Christ and life in Him, are now all in all. Accordingly all former possessions are readily surrendered." Surely, one would not expect two parables to present things no wider apart than these; and the buying of Christ after this manner is an unscriptural thought. If we have had to refuse, moreover, the similar interpretation of the treasure, the parallel features in the two forbid our acceptance of dissimilar explanations for them. If Christ be the Finder of the one parable, He must be also the Seeker in the other.
But why, then, the two parables? If Christ be the central Figure in each case, there must be surely difference as to the object before Him; but the general thought of those who accept this view is that it is only one and the same object, though differently presented: "The parable of the hidden treasure," it is said, "did not sufficiently convey what the saints are to Christ. For the treasure might consist of a hundred thousand pieces of gold and silver. And how would this mark the blessedness and beauty of the Church? The merchantman finds ‘one pearl of great price.’ The Lord does not see merely the preciousness of the saints, but the unity and heavenly beauty of the assembly. Every saint is precious to Christ; but He ‘loved the Church and gave Himself for it.’"
This, however, does not adequately distinguish between the two parables, and indeed passes over entirely some of the most conspicuous differences between them. One cannot understand, if this be all, why the "pearl" should not by itself suffice for both.
That the pearl is the Church is indeed capable of fullest demonstration. If, then, the Church, the heavenly object be pictured in the second parable, does not this naturally raise the question whether the "treasure hid in the field" of the world is not intended to mark a contrast in this respect? If so, and in connection with the Kingdom of heaven, our thoughts are at once directed to Israel as brought before us in the treasure. Let us examine the possibility of such an application, and see whether it may not help us with regard to some of the otherwise unexplained differences between the two parables.
We have seen that the Kingdom was first announced to Israel. But they rejected the King, and on this account it passed from them. This is, no doubt, why the thought of Israel being before us here has not been more frankly entertained. The parables are "mysteries" of the Kingdom: but is not Israel’s rejection from that which according to Old Testament prophecy belongs to her (and which shall be yet hers in a day to come) part of these very mysteries? The words of the apostle of the Gentiles seem to be clearly in the affirmative with regard to this. He says: "For I would not have you to be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened unto Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. xi. 25). Thus he names the very thing which has caused the rejection of Israel for the present time as among the mysteries of this time. Is it not, then, antecedently probable enough that among these parables Israel’s relation to the Kingdom should be found to have a place?
When we look at the parable again, we cannot but be confirmed in this. To Israel it was promised that if they obeyed Jehovah’s voice, and kept His covenant, then they should be a peculiar treasure unto Him above all people (Ex. xix. 5); and the psalmist would wake up their praise by the recollection that "Jehovah hath chosen Jacob for Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure" (Ps. cxxxv. 4). Yet when the Lord came to His own this treasure as such was hid in the field of the world, - as it were, lost among the nations. He discovered it, but could not possess Himself of it. He must first purchase it as at the cross, where Caiaphas’ unconscious prophecy declared He would "die for the nation" (John xi. 51). We see also why the field must be bought: it is in the world that Israel is yet to be displayed as Jehovah’s treasure. But the purchase being made, there is nothing further done as to possession: here the parable stops; the end of this belongs not to the "mysteries;" and in the meanwhile another purpose comes into sight, and is the very thing of which the next parable certainly bears witness.
Thus the interpretation in this way fairly and fully unlocks the whole parable; and a scriptural interpretation which does this must needs be the true one; for if not, - if two interpretations, equally consistent, could be given of the same words, then the words would not distinguish, would be defective in significance, as the Lord’s words could not be. We would have no means of discerning between the true and the false: a conclusion which would be the destruction of the power and authority of Scripture: for that whose meaning cannot be known ceases by that fact to have authority.
In the pearl of great price it is no wonder that Christians should imagine the Lord to be intended. But it is the Church which is thus spoken of, and its preciousness is not only insisted on, but in measure explained also. Its value is estimated by One who knows fully what it is He values. It is now not merely a man who finds, but a merchant who is seeking goodly pearls. The thing he finds he is in pursuit of, and with the practised eye of the skilled observer. Notice, too, that it is intimated that there are other pearls. This is one, however, whose value is such that, having found it, he will sell all he has to buy it.
But what is a pearl? It is, first of all, the product of a living being: it is the only jewel, as far as I am aware, that is so; and this is the first thing, surely, that we are intended to realize in it. A pearl is the result of injury done to the animal that produces it. Its material is the nacre, as it is called, or "mother of pearl," which lines the interior of the shell, and which is renewed by it as often as injured or worn away. A particle of sand getting between the animal and the shell, the irritation causes a deposit of nacre upon it, which goes on being deposited, layer after layer, till a pearl is formed. But "completely spherical pearls" - and these are the valuable ones - "can only be formed loose in the muscle or soft parts of the animal. The Chinese obtain them artificially by introducing into the living muscle foreign substances, such as pieces of mother of pearl fixed to wires, which thus become coated with a more brilliant material."
The pearl is thus, as we may say, an answer to an injury; and it is the offending object that becomes, through the work of the injured one, a precious and beauteous gem. It is clothed with a comeliness put upon it, as the objects of divine grace are, with the beauty and glory of Him we crucified! It is in truth nothing else that He sought in coming among us but object of divine grace.
Between a common pearl and one of great price, the difference is only of degree. The size and brilliancy depend, not upon the grain of sand which may be inwrapped, but upon the number of layers of nacre which inwrap it. The greatness of the grace bestowed is the distinguishing feature in what is here. Different bestowals of grace there are, and Scripture asserts this in the fullest way. The calling of Israel is not that of the Church, which is Christ’s body; and though the departed saints of former dispensations will plainly be in heaven as we shall be, Scripture again makes a difference between "the Church of the first-born ones whose names are written in heaven," (Israel being the first-born upon earth) and the "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. xii. 23). God is going "in the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Eph. ii. 7).
Israel may be the treasure in the field, but the pearl speaks of personal adornment. Christ will have the Church in heaven with Himself, putting in the highest place what is to show most conspicuously the glory of His grace. It is one pearl: as the body of Christ is one. There cannot be, it is evident, another body of Christ. The "fullness" or complement "of Him that filleth all in all" admits of no other.
The treasure and the pearl both speak of what is faith’s view as to the Kingdom, not the external view presented in the first four parables. In the treasure we find Israel preserved for blessing, but reserved, they having in the meanwhile rejected the only possible way in which it could be theirs. In the pearl we have that in which, during this reservation, the purpose of God as to the Church comes out. It is the first expression of it, and as yet we do not realize just what it is: as the "assembly which is His body," or even as "the house of God," it is not yet mentioned, but as people for Himself, destined to display His glory - the glory of His grace: heavenly, therefore, not earthly, the earthly promises being Israel’s still. The revelation will, of course, become fuller as we go on. The light increases to the perfect day.
4 (47-52): the mercy to the world
4 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a draw-net, cast into the sea, and gathering of every kind: which when it was filled, they drew to shore and sat down and gathered the good into vessels and cast the worthless away. So shall it be at the completion of the age: the angels shall go forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
[Jesus saith unto them],* Have ye "understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. And he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who is made a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like unto a householder that bringeth out of his treasure things and old.
*Omitted by some.
4 Israel comes no more into this picture: all has been said about it that needs. The rest is told fully in the Old Testament prophets. What we have in the last parable here concerns neither Israel nor the Church, as is plain by the interpretation which our Lord Himself gives: it is the mercy to the Gentiles, - after the purpose of God as to the Church is complete. A new gathering now begins with the net cast into the sea, the figure of the Gentile nations. It gathers of every kind, and is then drawn to shore, and the sorting of the good from the bad is by angel-hands alone. This is at the completion of the age, and while coincident with the final harvesting of the wheat-field, is a different thing from it. To the present time it cannot apply: the putting the fish into denominational vessels, as some have applied it, is not a possible thought here: for we are not in the "completion of the age,"* which is, as our Lord explains, the time of harvest; and the sorting in this case is not by human but angelic hands.
*The full explanation of this term will be given in the notes on the twenty-fourth chapter, where the whole prophecy relates to it. The "end of the world" is a wrong translation.
The net applies to the going out of the "everlasting gospel," as in Rev. xiv. 6, 7, after the Church is removed to heaven, and where the terms of it show at once the difference between it and the gospel at the present time. We cannot say, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come," and on the other hand the grace which it is ours to proclaim is infinitely fuller. The issue of what is here is, no doubt, seen in the separative judgment of the living, when the Lord appears, as shown forth in the "sheep" and "goats" of the twenty-fifth chapter. In the wheat-field of Christendom there will be at the end no separation of the wicked from among the righteous, but the righteous will be gathered first of all, and removed to heaven; after which nothing but the darnel will remain to be gathered and burnt. With the fish here and the sheep and goats in the later chapter, there is a true judicial separation of the "sheep from the goats," the wicked departing into everlasting fire, and the righteous left for blessing upon earth under the "Shepherd" rule of the Son of man now come.
This is the end of the parables of the Kingdom; and the Lord’s words that follow to His disciples are self-evident in their application to them. New things have been declared and put in connection with the old; all the latter part being such an adjustment. The scribe of the old dispensation, becoming now the disciple of the new, is brought into the fullness of the whole revelation of God.