Letter On The Parables Of The Thirteenth Of Matthew

Editor's Note31

I Think, dear brother, that there are already explanations of the thirteenth of Matthew published, but as it appears that several brothers have not read them, in reply to the request of your correspondent, I shall give a short explanation of this chapter.

The end of chapter 12 had terminated Christ’s relations with the Jews, and even with man according to the flesh; seven spirits, worse than the one which had gone out of this people, would re-enter with him into the empty, swept, and garnished house, abandoned, alas! to the enemy, but not for ever. Jesus no longer owned the ties which were of the flesh. Those who did His Father’s will were His brother, and sister, and mother. With regard to His teaching the people, as being Himself the Prophet that should come, all was ended. He leaves the house, and seated Himself in a ship on the sea. He no longer thinks of gathering fruit from His vine. He sows, He brings with Him that which, being received into the heart, will bear fruit, but He no longer seeks it in His vine, as He had done; still less does He look for fruit in the world.

Now let us come to the parables of the chapter. We find seven; the first is not a similitude of the kingdom, but. it treats of the effect produced on the individual by the word. Then follow three parables, similitudes of the kingdom, proclaimed in the presence of the multitude. At last, when Jesus had gone again into the house, He gives the disciples alone an explanation of the first of these parables; then He adds three others, declaring on this subject, that He spoke in parables, because it was no longer given to the people to hear the kingdom announced as being still for them; this was only given to those who had received the testimony of Jesus, and Jesus Himself as the Christ (v. 11).

The first parable is, indeed, the word of the kingdom, though not a similitude of the kingdom. The point in question is the reception of this word in the heart, not the establishment of the kingdom in this world. There are four classes: the careless hearer; here, just as the birds pick up the seed sown by the wayside, so the devil takes away the word sown in careless hearts, for the word coming from God’s heart is adapted to man’s heart. Next comes a heart receiving the word with joy. The glad tidings of the kingdom, and of divine blessing, rejoice the heart, but the conscience is untouched; there is not consequently any root, and when persecution and tribulation arise on account of the word, as the careless one had only received it for the joy it brought him, he renounces it on account of the tribulation that ensues. There is no fruit. A third case appeared to give hope of the seed germinating, but the briers and thorns choke it; cares, the love of riches, do not allow the word to bring fruit to maturity. Finally, the seed falls into good ground, there is spiritual intelligence; the heart understands the word, it receives it; then it produces more or less fruit in each one. The cases are not presented as declaring the doctrine of grace and of the operation of the Spirit, nor the contrary, but the actual result that is manifested as the effect of the sowing of the word. Still, these various cases are placed by the Lord before the conscience. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Then come the parables of the kingdom. The first three present the external appearance of the kingdom, what it becomes to the world’s view. The first of these three adds the separation of the wicked from among the righteous; it ends by the order being given to the reapers to gather the good seed into the granary. Save the fact announced by the Lord, that the wheat was, according to His orders, to be gathered into the garner, we have in these parables only the public effect in the world of the establishment of the kingdom of heaven; that is to say, of the kingdom of God while the King remains hidden in heaven, and has not yet either taken Hir great power, or acted as King, so that the kingdom without a recognised or manifested king, progresses, takes certain forms which testify of the King’s absence, and makes its way as though He was not occupied with it, although He, in reality, does act, in His grace, to call His own, and make them grow. (Compare Mark 4:26-29.)

The Son of man sows good seed (the word of God). While men sleep, Satan comes, and sows tares where the good seed had been sown. It is not the natural condition of a heathen or unbelieving heart; it is what Satan has introduced among real Christians, to spoil the crop on earth. He cannot injure the good seed, nor prevent its being gathered into the garner, but in this world the crop is spoiled. This must last till the time of harvest. Then the Son of man will again personally occupy Himself with it. In the meantime His servants are not to be occupied with the tares in the world, with the purpose of purifying the crop in the world. Their business is not with the tares; the crop, once spoiled, remains spoiled to the end. But this refers to the state of the crop in the world, that is, to Christianity. We have nothing to do here with the church, the assembly of God. Here the good seed is not united into an assembly. At the time of harvest all will be put in order. In rooting up the tares of the field (the world), one might also pluck up the good seed; it is just what occurred when Rome wanted to destroy the heretics.

The second parable presents the kingdom as a great power in the earth. (See Daniel 4.) This is what a great tree is always a figure of in Scripture, as Assyria, Egypt. The seed of the word, in appearance insignificant at the beginning, has in fact become a great, and even the greatest, power on earth.

The third of our parables—that of the leaven—shews not an individual and real effect, as was the case in that of the sower, where the effect disappears when the word does not take root in the conscience; but it is a question of a general influence, which completely fills a limited sphere. Moreover a term (leaven) is used, which everywhere else has the sense of corruption. This is Christianity again.

After this the Lord sends the multitudes away, re-enters the house, and there speaks only to His disciples. He explains the parable of the tares, then adds three others. We have some remarks to make on the Lord’s explanation of the parable of the tares and the field. (Verses 36-43; compare v. 24-30.)

The judgment of God manifests publicly what is only spiritually known before the judgment. Thus every explanation of parables and prophecies introduces elements which are not to be found in the parable or prophecy itself. Here the tares, already bound into bundles (in masses associated together and remaining on the field), are cast into the fire. Christ, by an earthly judgment, takes out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity. The earthly part of the kingdom is purified. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. This is the heavenly part; then the kingdom of heaven will present two distinct parts—the kingdom of the Father above, and that of the Son of man below.

The three parables which follow (v. 44-50) shew the intention of Christ, and divine intelligence, in these things. The field is purchased to obtain the treasure. Christ has bought (not redeemed) the world to possess His own. His power over those who refuse His rights will be manifested in judgment, but this is not the subject of the parable.

Next (v. 45, 46), the moral beauty of the church engages His affections. He seeks what is lovely. There He finds it. In these two cases He renounces all His rights as Messiah Son of God on the earth, to the promises as Son of David, and come in the flesh. He went so far as to empty Himself of everything, to have the fruit of His humiliation in the glory of His own, the fruit of the travail of His soul.

Finally (v. 47-50), the kingdom takes at the end the character of a net thrown into the sea, and which gathers every kind of fish, good and bad. The subject is Christianity, which does not embrace all the people of the world, but a limited number, although composed of all sorts of men. Here the fishermen are employed in separating, and again the divine purpose is found that would have good fish, whereas the fishermen’s labours have collected all sorts; however, they separate the good. This is what they sought, and they leave the others there. Then the explanation goes outside (the parable) to judgment. The angels separate, not the good from the bad, but the evil from among the good; then the bad are thrown into the furnace of fire. The act of the fishers is one of spiritual intelligence, when Christianity is formed as it is at present.

Thus you have in a few words, dear brother, the true sense, I believe, of these parables, full of instruction for us. The scribe, instructed in the things of the kingdom, possesses, indeed, that which the prophets announced; and he adds to it explanations which are the fruit of the coming and of the rejection of Christ—facts which give the kingdom a form which is presented to us in these parables.

31 From the French.