The Divine Counsel and Purpose

The three parables which remain to be considered have found interpretations more various and conflicting than the preceding ones, and require, therefore, an examination proportionately the more careful. The former were all spoken (with the exception of the interpretation of the second one,) in the presence of the whole multitude, and they refer to a condition of things to which the world at large is this day witness. But "Then," we read, these four parables having been delivered, "Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house, and His disciples came unto Him" (vs. 36). To these alone He speaks the parables which follow, for they contain, not external history merely, but the divine mind surely fulfilling amid all this outward confusion and ruin, which the former parables have shown Him not ignorant of who foretold it from the beginning.

It will not be necessary to advert to different views prevailing as to the meaning of the parables before us, but only to seek to show from Scripture itself, as fully as possible, the grounds for that which will here be considered as the true.

The very number of the parables tells of this. For as there are seven in all, the number from creation onward the type and symbol of completeness,-so this number seven is divided further into four and three. "Four" is the number of univer-sality, of the world at large, from the four points of the com-pass, (as I take it)-east, west, north and south. "Three" is the divine number-that of the Persons in the Godhead. Here, then, the first four parables give us the world-aspect of the kingdom of heaven; the last three, the divine mind accomplishing with regard to it.

Parable of the Treasure in the Field

The first two parables we shall put together, as they invite comparison by their evident resemblance to one another:- "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (vs. 44-46).

The parables are alike in this, that they both present to us the action of a man who purchases what has value in his eyes at the cost of all he has. The question is, who is presented here? The common voice replies that it is man as the seeker of salvation or of Christ,- that we have here the story of individual effort after the "one thing needful," flinging aside all other things in order to obtain it. But is this consistent with the constant representations of Scripture, or with the facts themselves? Do we thus buy Christ at the cost of all we have? It is true we have in the prophet the exhortation to "buy" (Isa. 55:1), where the "wine and milk" are no doubt the figure of spiritual sustenance. But there (that there may be no mistake in such a matter), the "buying" is distinctly said to be "without money and without price." Man is never represented as seeking salvation with wealth in his hand to purchase it. The prodigal seeks, but not until perishing with hunger. He comes back beggared, driven by necessity, and only so. And all who have ever come back really to the Father know this to be the truthful representation of the matter.

On the other hand, the real Seeker, Finder, Buyer, everywhere in Scripture, is the Lord Jesus Christ. The figure in both parables is most evidently His. The same Person is represented in each, and the same work too, though under different aspects. In the first parable, it is treasure hid in a field that is the object of the Buyer. "The field," we are told in the interpretation of the parable of the tares, "is the world." It is an object in the world, then,- an earthly object,- that is sought for and obtained. So in this parable He is represented as buying "that field" - buying the world. He buys the field to get the treasure in it. Most certainly no man ever bought the world to get Christ, so that the believer is not the "man" represented in the parable.

Did Christ, then, buy the world by His sufferings? Turn to the last chapter of this gospel, and hear Him say, as risen from the dead, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth." Strictly, it is "authority," not "power." He has title over all, and that as the risen One. "Ask of Me," is the language of Jehovah to the Son begotten upon earth, "and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Psa. 2). Thus He takes the throne in the day of His appearing and His kingdom. It is because of that wondrous descent of One "in the form of God" down to the fathomless depths of "the death of the cross," that "therefore hath God highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name above every name; that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth, and things under the earth; arid that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2). It is that explains, what perplexes some, that Peter can speak of those who, "denying the Lord that bought them, bring upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. 2:1). These are not at all redeemed ones, but they are "bought," for all men and all the world belong to Him as the fruit of His sufferings,- of that cross, where He, for the sake of that which had beauty in His eyes, sold all that He had.

Thus I conceive it unquestionable, that it is Christ Himself who is the central figure in these two parables. We may now compare the two sides of His work presented in them. In that of the treasure, we have seen it is the field of the "world" that is bought for the sake of the treasure in it; while in that of the pearl, no field is bought at all, hut simply the pearl itself. Are these two figures, then, the treasure and the pearl, different aspects of the same thing, or different things?- the same object from different points of view, or different objects?

If we look for a moment at what has been already pointed out as to "the kingdom of heaven" of which these parables are both similitudes, we shall see that there are two spheres which it embraces, answering to those words of the Lord we have just quoted, "All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." Christ is now, as a matter of fact, gathering out from the earth those who are to "sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" - not in earthly, but in heavenly blessing. But before "the appearing and kingdom," this purpose having been accomplished, and the heavenly saints caught up to meet the Lord,- He will gather to Himself, for blessing upon the earth, a remnant of Israel and an election of the Gentiles. Take the two purposes of Christ's death as expressed in John 11:51, 52, you have it as the inspired comment upon Caiaphas' advice to the Jewish council, -"And this spake he, not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only," adds the inspired writer, "but that also He should gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad."

Now I ask, is it not significant that we find in the second of these parables the very type of UNITY,- the one pearl,- as that which the merchant man bought? Is it not, then, permissible and natural to turn to the other with the anticipation of finding in it "that nation" of Israel, for which also Jesus died, under the figure of the "treasure hid in the field"? Thus would Israel on the one hand and the Church upon the other be the representatives of earthly and of heavenly blessing: the Gentile nations coming in to share with Israel the one as the departed saints of the past dispensations come in to share with the Church the other. The reason why these two alone should be spoken of, and not along with the Church the saints of former times, or along with Israel the Gentiles of the future, will, I think, be plain to those who consider the Scripture mode of putting these same things. Thus to Israel belong the "promises," as Rom. 9:4 declares. The Gentiles no more come into view there than they do in the parable of the treasure here. Yet many a Scripture promises the blessing of the Gentiles on a future day. But they come in under the skirts of the now despised Jew (Zech. 8:23). Then again, as to the Church, it is the only company of people gathered openly and avowedly for heavenly blessing. And moreover, it is the company that is being gathered now, and began to be with the sowing of the gospel-seed in the first parable of those before us.

The Treasure in the Field is Israel
Let us look now somewhat closer into the details of the parable of the treasure hid in a field.

Of old it had been said, "The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure" (Psa. 135:4). But at the time when He who had so chosen them came unto His own, there was but little appearance in the condition of the people of the place they had thus in Jehovah's heart. "Lo-Ammi," - "not My people," had long been said of them. They were even then scattered among the Gentiles. The figure of the treasure hid in the field was the true similitude of their condition, watched over as "beloved for the father's sake," and yet trodden down by the foot of the oppressor, to none but Him who yet longed over them known as having pre-ciousness for God.

But there was One who recognized the value of this treasure. One who had in His birth fulfilled to Israel Isaiah's prophecy of Emmanuel,-"God with us." One to whom, so born, Gentiles had brought their homage as "King of the Jews." He found this treasure, presenting Himself among them as One having divine power to meet their condition, and bring them forth out of their hiding-place, and make manifest the object of divine favour and delight. And those who knew best His thoughts were ever expecting the time when He would bring forth this treasure and display it openly. That question which they had proposed to Him after His resurrection shows what had long been in their hearts, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

And they understood not when they saw the gleam of brightness which had shone out for them when He rode in the meekest of triumphs, amidst the acclamations of the multitude, into Jerusalem, fade and die out in the midday darkness which so shortly after fell on Calvary. They understood not yet how He was in all this but the "man" in His own parable, who, finding treasure in th.e field, hideth it, and for joy thereof goeth forth and selleth all that He hath, and buyeth that field.

And the treasure is hidden still. Calvary is come and gone,- Joseph's new tomb is emptied of its Guest,- they have stood upon the mount called Olivet, and seen Him whom they have owned King of the Jews go up to take another throne than that of David. Then they are found charging the people with their denial of the Holy One and the Just, bidding them still repent and be converted, and even now, He who had left them would be sent back to them, and the times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord. Scenes before the council follow; one at last in which a man, whose face shines with the glory of heaven, stands and charges the leaders of the nation with the accumulated guilt of ages,-"Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do alway resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye." And they cast him out of the city and stone him. Those that were bidden have been called to the marriage, and they will not come.

The city is destroyed, and the people scattered. Israel are still a treasure hid. The parable gives no bringing forth. Simply the field is bought. It is now but "Ask, and I will give Thee." All waits upon the will of Him to whom now everything belongs. But He waits, and has waited for nearly twenty centuries, as if the treasure were nothing to Him now and He had forgotten His purpose.

The Pearl of Great Price is the Church
Then the second parable comes in as what is needed by way of explanation of the long delay. The "one pearl of great price" speaks of the preciousness to Him of another objects on which He has set His heart. "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it" - "went and sold all that He had and bought it." Not now the field of the world, for the Church is heavenly. Israel has still the earthly "promises." We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. This Church is one - one pearl. Brought up out of the depth of the sea, and taken out of the rough shell in which it is first incased - taken out at the cost of the life of that to which it owes its being, the pearl is a fitting type of that which has been drawn out of the sea of Gentile waters, and out of the roughness of its natural condition, at the cost of the life of Him in whom it was seen and chosen before the foundation of the world. Of how "great price" to Him, that death of His may witness. The title which the Christian heart so commonly and naturally takes to be His alone, it is sweet to see that His heart can give His people. We, dear fellow believers, are His precious pearl. Nor is there any "hiding again" here, or suspension of this purpose. This is the second meaning of the cross, "who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it."