I would say a few words on this chapter, or collection of parables, in the deep feeling of the imperfectness with which any of us understand “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”; and this, not merely from personal feelings as to individual weakness, but from the scope and extent of the divine wisdom in them—a wisdom knit up with and developing the whole of the divine counsels—a wisdom, therefore, not to be acquired in mere detached passages, but in the comprehension of the mind of God which flows from the abundance of the Spirit exercised in spiritual application to Scripture. Nevertheless, I feel that our portion, as believers, is to be given to know them—our blessed portion; and we may be allowed, in the confidence of His love, to breathe out also what we may have apprehended of the mind of the Spirit, and to present it to the judgment of our brethren.
With this feeling of confidence in the Lord, I shall open out what appears to me to be the order and power of this collection of parables. Their detailed meaning may, perhaps, be the subject of some subsequent observation. I would remark, then, in the first place, that the phrases, “kingdom of heaven,” and also, “kingdom of your or their Father,” are peculiar to Matthew—expressions manifestly not unimportant in force. The only exception at all is the use of the latter expression, by implication, in the instruction to pray, in Luke 11: an exception not without interest, but which I can dwell on here only to observe, that the kingdom in every instance we are taught to pray for is the Father’s kingdom. In these parables we have both: the term “kingdom of heaven” being common to all, save the first; that of “kingdom of your Father” being found in the explanation of the second of the parables. The importance of the former expression is seen not only in its being a positive subject of all the parables, except the first, but from the emphatic declaration of our Lord: “Every scribe, instructed into the kingdom of heaven, will bring forth out of his treasure things new and old.”10 The scribe, being well taught in the law of Moses, could therefore bring forth the old things; and being “instructed into the kingdom of heaven,” could bring forth out of his treasures, therefore, new things. He was to have, indeed, new things, but he was not to give up the old; what he had learnt as a scribe were treasures in the estimation of Christ, to be brought forth by the scribe “instructed into the kingdom of heaven.” I consider these parables, then, as a full prophetic statement of the character and detail of the circumstances in which the kingdom of heaven would be placed. There are seven parables in all—a common circumstance expressive of completeness, or perfectness, in prophetic statements, which the attentive reader of Scripture cannot fail to have observed; of these, six are similitudes of the kingdom of heaven—the first, not: the act described in the first being an act of the Son of man before His ascension; and its results, also, such as might be exhibited in individuals before as well as after it. This parable declares the agency of the kingdom and its particular results; the others, the dispensation of the kingdom. To recur to “things new and old” —the fact of “the kingdom of heaven” might well be called an “old thing”; one conversant in Daniel, with the hopes of the old law, might well have looked for such a thing. The order of its development and position was a “new thing”; which was to be revealed consequent upon the manifestation, and (we must add, though not here developed)11 the rejection and resurrection of Christ the Son. The fact absolutely revealed in prophetic testimony was the giving of a kingdom to the Son of man. The learning that the heavens do rule was a lesson to be taught in the expected suppression and setting aside of Gentile domination. Yet an earthly dominion in the Jewish people was an expectation which every Jew (taking prophecy literally, as every Jew must), because he was a Jew, must have justly held upon belief in the prophetic declaration. In the midst of these (perhaps confused, yet just, and, in one sense, believing) apprehensions, our Lord came in with a definite declaration, that “the kingdom of heaven was at hand.”
That “the kingdom of heaven” was merely the true invisible church of God is an explanation which cannot for a moment be maintained, consistently with a single statement of these parables and of analogous ones. That it was merely the visible church of God is neither consistent with what we find in this chapter, nor any adequate representation of the matter, as is manifest from the parables of the treasure and the pearls. The rule of heaven is the simple force of the expression “the kingdom of heaven.” Earthly dominion was exercised by the Gentiles unrighteously; earthly dominion was expected by the Jews, and expected, though true, unrighteously; as was shewn by their rejection of “the Holy One of God,” who came from heaven— “the Son of man,” “the King of the Jews.” Most important, then, and a point of sustaining faith, to one who might think that it had been “he who should have redeemed Israel,” was it to recognise in this word “the kingdom of heaven,” that a resurrection Lord might hold its power; and anomalous, and apparently failing, as their position might have been, to learn, not only new spiritual things, but that the kingdom of heaven was that which, even in dispensation, was the mind and order of God’s counsels.
Hence we find it so especially referred to in Matthew, the Gospel more particularly of dispensation and prophetic testimony. It would manifestly carry me into too large a subject here to enter farther into this most interesting point of the distinctive character of the gospels, the evidences of which, in three of them, are prominent—in the other, arise from a number of minute particulars. I mention the distinction here, as shewing the ground on which “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of their Father” appear to be used in Matthew’s gospel alone. It was a gentle unfolding, though full declaration, that the order of things now coming in was, of its own character, maintaining the hope given as coming from God; one which in result, indeed, we know to be founded in the resurrection, but which, in its testimony, then claimed repentance only on the part of the Jew, the connection of which shall never find its manifested accomplishment till the millennial glory in the risen saints and the repentant Jew, gathered together in one in Christ, sustaining in resurrection life and power the blessings of the Jews on earth and its consequences; [He] at the same time being the companion and the servant, too, of the joy of the saints risen into fellowship with Him in His Father’s house as sons. Our Lord, however, in this chapter unfolds its actual characters, and we must endeavour to bring in “the new things” of “the kingdom,” to understand fully the ground on which the kingdom of heaven now stands. We have here two other kingdoms— “the kingdom of their Father,” i.e., of the righteous; and “the kingdom of the Son of man.” In neither of these, properly speaking, are we now. The Son of man shall do so and so, and “then shall the righteous,” etc.12
These kingdoms are the full development of that which now rests in an anomalous and ambiguous state (glorious and blessed, indeed, but still ambiguous13 as regards its manifested results), to wit, “the kingdom of God’s dear Son,” the kingdom of the Son of God as sitting upon the Father’s throne. This is not the kingdom of the Son of man; it is not the kingdom of the Father, but the kingdom of the Son of God sitting on His Father’s throne; the Lamb rejected, slain, sitting on the right hand of God, or in the midst of the throne. I believe this to be the great mystery of the present order of the kingdom, the promise to be, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne,” where no saint ever sat, none but He whose right it is.
This principle, or glorious truth, of the Son sitting on the Father’s throne, as the present subject of faith, will be found to run through the whole of our Lord’s language in John, and give the character of the whole present state of things. Hence the Spirit is said to be sent down from the Father, because it was to bring us, not only into fellowship with Jesus, but into the understanding of sonship with the Father, in whose house and kingdom the righteous were to dwell and shine forth. Now these parables in Matthew are just the shewing forth of the planting and results of this kingdom of heaven, in the sitting of Jesus on the throne of God in power unseen, and ministration of the Spirit according to the Father’s will, and “a Lamb as it had been slain,” yea, and in the midst of the throne, but in which He had not taken the earth as His actual portion.
There is another connection which will illustrate the language of these parables—I mean the development of the hope of Israel in Psalm 78, compared with the application of verse 2 with verse 35 of this chapter. There was no riddle simply in historical facts, but there was a most important lesson and mystery in the total failure of Israel; the Israel of God in the earth totally failing in the midst of all deliverances and blessings, and then set up in stability in David their king. It was the kingdom of David connected with the Jew. But there were other riddles (Psalm 78:1; Matt. 13:35. See original)—the great riddle of the kingdom of heaven in its present dispensation— “things new” (besides David’s reign of Christ over the Jews).
Our Lord (as the prophet of Israel, and the kingdom which now reached out to the world) takes two positions in these parables, or rather, string of prophecies, which are the two parts of prophecy filled up in Him in whom every office was fulfilled. The church in order required no prophecy,14 nor Israel either. In disorder, the prophetic testimony had two offices: the testimony of that disorder, and the method of God’s purposes as paramount to human disorder—judgment against the one, and the method of God’s plan of grace, the purposes of God in their moral character and wisdom of counsel. Both are assumed or recognised by the Spirit, as exhibited by our Lord in this chapter. The first we have exhibited in the great prophetic mission of Isaiah (chap. 6), where the seeing the full revealed glory of Jehovah necessarily involves those not seeing that glory, now it was revealed, in the consequences of judicial blindness. This was fulfilled in our Lord. There was the full glory of Jehovah and the Spirit of revelation, and the word, therefore, of judicial blindness applied directly; and He speaks this to them in parables. A comparison of the language both of Ezekiel and Zechariah will much confirm this observation: “Then shalt thou know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee,” Zech. 2:11. “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him that is escaped,” Ezek. 24:27. This prophetic character is attached to the parables in verse 13. The other prophetic character is opening out to the remnant, by these very riddles, the mysteries of the kingdom, understood when the Spirit has revealed Christ, according to the measure of that revelation, “Unto you it is given to know.” This declared in Psalm 78 is adverted to in verse 35. Note here, the Lord acts on the measure of blindness, in judgment, as on the measure of light in giving more—a very awful consideration, yet sure.
Thus we see the character of the whole chapter—to wit, Christ’s prophetic testimony upon the rejection of His word by the Jews: the order of the divine kingdom during the absence of the Son of man consequent upon His rejection, and the assumption of His own throne, the ministration of power in the hands of the Son of man, with the closing scene of that order, the assumption of the righteous into the Father’s kingdom in the brightness “of the sun” (i.e., Christ Himself); the purging of the Son of man’s kingdom, the field in which the tares were; the declaration of the intrinsic excellence and value with the beauty of the kingdom [the gathering of the good first into vessels], and the judgment of the visible church, the net-full gathered out of the sea.
I would now follow, a little, the order of the parables or prophetic declarations themselves. The first, I have observed, is no similitude of the kingdom at all, but the sowing of the seed, by which its ministration was carried into effect: a general parable, the general instrument, and therefore stated previously to the judicial blindness of the Jews, and not made a similitude of the kingdom of heaven, but the word of the kingdom, the details of the operation or hindrance of which are most blessedly and beautifully marked. The following six parables are similitudes of the kingdom of heaven, but there is a marked distinction in them. The explanation of the first of the six and the last three of these parables are addressed to the disciples alone; the former three being addressed to them and the multitude at large. The first three contain the ostensible position and result of the kingdom in the world, of which men might be more or less cognizant, or which might be addressed to them. The latter three, and their explanation, are either the result in full development, the result in God’s hands, or the intrinsic character and value of the kingdom work, as in the mind of the Spirit developing the mind of the Lord. This was addressed to the disciples especially. Farther, I would remark, as the first three are the kingdom as seen in the world, and the last three as known in the mind of God, so is the contrast between them more definite still. The first is the sowing abroad in the world, the last is the separative process of the actual net-full (the quantum gathered out of the sea) now dragged to shore. The two intermediate ones of the first three are, one, the external organisation by which the kingdom grows up into the world; the other, the diffusion of doctrine through the mass, which the Lord characterises as leaven, the import of which is given elsewhere. The two intermediate ones of the latter three are, the first, the value of the hidden treasure in the field, the real glory of the Church, as known by the mind and discovery of the Lord, though not now brought out, for which He was content to buy the field—to take the world in its present worthless condition. The application of this is most important. The second is the moral beauty of its grace in the eye of God, meeting the mind of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls, the estimate of the grace in the church by Christ, and the spirit of Christ. I believe, also, the first of the former two answers to, or is the contrast of, the first of the latter two, and the latter of the latter. The last parable manifestly discloses the judicial process on the body gathered to shore [by the separation of the good, and subsequent judgment], a question quite distinct from His judgment of the world.
I have now, I believe, distinctly traced the order and structure of the parables. An attempt at their interpretation remains. I shall only remark on those which are the likeness of the kingdom of heaven, and only by way of heads. Of the first, we have our Lord’s own interpretation, in which I have only to direct the attention to the simple force of the terms upon which the Spirit of God must throw His light for our understanding “this word of the kingdom.” We have seen, generally, that the first three are the position or character of the kingdom in the world. So we have here, “the field is the world,” and nothing else; nor does the judicial process refer to the judgment of even the nominal church, that is subsequently in the last parable. Christ sowed the good seed of the kingdom in the world; and the devil, with craft, sowed tares there amongst it, while men slept, “perverse men” “ordained to this condemnation.” The power of extermination was not given (to wit, out of the world) to the church, the servants of the householder: they must “both grow together until the harvest.” It was no service to Christ, then, to kill a heretic; the rude hand of a servant might destroy a saint, in attempting the purity of the crop, by that which was reserved for other hands. The ripening of both was the present process, ripened together in the world. The church would never become a system to purify or set right the world. The providential power of God in the ministration of the Son by His angels,15 would clear out of His kingdom in bundles, into the field, in the world, the tares to be burned; and thereupon the righteous would shine forth as the sun, not in the kingdom of the Son, not in the kingdom of the Son of man, but in the kingdom of the Father. In a word, we have the clearing of the world, the field, by providential interposition, by a judicial process in the hands of the Son of man, sending His angels. The righteous of the kingdom, i.e., those who had been righteous while the world was evil, shall be as the sun. We know who “the Sun of righteousness” is, and “when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”; but it is in the kingdom of their Father. What followed in the kingdom of the Son of man we know not hence, only that He gathered all that offend out of it, and that the earthly “kingdom of our Lord and his Christ was come”; but this was not the subject of a similitude of the kingdom of heaven. This mixed and ambiguous system was closed, or rather accomplished, in the separation of the Father’s kingdom of glory (the righteous, as the Sun of righteousness, being together in it, to the praise of the glory of His grace by what is past, and of His glory then: compare Eph. 1:6-12) and the kingdom of the Son of man now purged judicially, the earthly kingdom being now brought in, of which we know, from other sources, the Jews to be the imperial power in Christ. The second parable I have already spoken of as the external organization in the world, of the power and influence of the kingdom according to the hierarchical form it took in man’s hand. The attentive reader of Scripture must be most familiar with the symbol of a tree as denoting external protective power and eminence, as in Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, and many others, making the analogy most definite. This, then, was the worldly power of the system. Now when the kingdom of the Son of man comes in, there may be something analogous, though not tantamount to this; but such16 a system must be a system of sovereign righteousness, forbidden by the previous parable to the church, or it will be an association or system of evil. The third is the spreading of nominal doctrine to whatever measured extent God had assigned or appointed. So also in another system this might have another character, but it cannot be recognised in grace properly here, for the whole is leavened, a thing again expressly negatived, as a fact in grace, in the first parable. The explanation to the disciples of the first we have spoken of as fully as our limits allow us here. Of the fourth, it is evidently the purchase by Christ of the world, for the sake of the treasure, the church, the treasure of God hidden in it to be brought out in due time. The fifth is the positive discriminated beauty and excellency of the church as ordained and set by God, and which the Spirit of Christ, the anointed One, recognises and sees in its beauty, so as to “love the church and give himself for it,” as seen in the mind of God’s love. In proportion as we have the mind of Christ, we shall of course enter into the mind of Him who is the head of the kingdom, whose Spirit is thus described, fulfilled in Him perfectly. In the last, we have evidence of the result, that the nominal church shall not gather in the world. There were many fishes in the sea, the mass of the unheeded world pursuing their own ways, not drawn into the net; but the net was filled, and there was gathered of every17 kind out of the sea, and there was also of bad and good. “The fulness of the Gentiles was come in,” and being full it was drawn to shore; and the judgment of the church commenced [by the separation of the good], and the bad are cast away. The details of these parables I do not enter into further here. I state synoptically what has been followed out as the subject arose. The kingdom of heaven we have as a state of things during the period when the Son is sitting on the Father’s throne. During this period the children are in the Son’s, but heirs of the Father’s kingdom—a period during which the world is. not ordered according to the righteous judicial power of the Son of man’s kingdom—the interval between the rejection of the Son of man upon earth and His reigning upon earth, in which the saints are sustained by the Spirit, in the midst of the world, by the Spirit sent of the Son by the Father, the witness of His exaltation there. Of this state of things, this chapter is the full prophetic announcement. The external character which it assumes in the world being depicted in the first three; the real blessing and value and the judgment of its results, its internal character in God’s sight, in the last three of the six parables. It closes in the setting up of the Son of man’s kingdom upon earth, and the assumption of the righteous, during its continuance, to the Father’s kingdom in the heavenlies. The first parable is the word of the kingdom. The expositions and internal view of the church or kingdom are given to the disciples; the judicial blindness of the Jews is declared, and the special privilege of the saints; and the parables are spoken distinctively as the “utterance of things hidden from the world,” which the Spirit reveals to those “who have ears to hear.”
10 I would remark on this expression, that we are taught to hold the continuing value of the Jewish prophetic expectation, of all that a scribe in the law of Moses would have drawn from the Old Testament, and that distinct from the expectation introduced by the gospel.
11 “The kingdom of God” is a distinct expression from “the kingdom of heaven,” although in many respects so identified, that the same things could be affirmed about it. Thus it could be said that the kingdom of God was at hand: that was most true; as it could be said also, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But at the same time they were of very distinct import; for it was matter of faith to know that the “kingdom of God was come amongst them.” (See Gr., Luke n:20; ch. 17:21.) So the Lord makes use of expressions never used of the kingdom of heaven—to know that the kingdom of heaven was not, but was “at hand” (Matt. 4:17, Gr.); whereas the same evangelist, or rather the Spirit of God by him, in speaking of the kingdom of God, immediately changes his phrase to the one noticed in Luke (Gr., Matt. 12:28). The kingdom of God was necessarily there when the Son of God was there—in a word, when God was there. The kingdom of heaven, as the development of God’s purpose, could not be there while He was there; it resulted from the Lord’s going away into heaven. The kingdom of God is the exercise or exhibition of the ruling power of God under any circumstances in the wisdom of God. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God in its heavenly character. In dispensation this is set up by the rejection of the King of God’s kingdom by the world; and, while it ought to have been known (even while He was upon earth), by faith, is known to faith by Jesus the Head, the Lamb slain, sitting on the throne of the Father. The kingdom of God, therefore, was amongst the Jews when He, the Son of God, Jesus, was there— and they ought to have known it—and the kingdom of heaven was at hand. By the earthliness of men, however, instead of gathering the Gentiles to the Jews, the Messiah being recognised, it was known only (as in God’s counsels and wisdom meant to be) by the rejection of Him, and the exaltation (to the place “where he was before”) of the Son of man, who was the Lord from heaven, and Son of man in heaven. The kingdom of heaven (His kingdom was not of this world) was set up, continuing, as regards the Church, till the time when the saints, in the Father’s kingdom, raised with Jesus at His second coming, shall know the blessedness of the rule of the Son of God and man, in the whole scene which once rejected Him, now brought under His sway and theirs (still, in that sense, the kingdom of heaven to those below), when they witness the blessedness of heavenly rule, while dwelling “kings and priests unto God” in the quiet and secure fulness of the Father’s house— sons with Him. This, too, more properly is the kingdom of man (compare Daniel 7); for under the exalted Man and His saints all things are put. Had Jesus not been rejected, it would have been the kingdom of God (still, it is surely so in character; for He is God, and it is God’s kingdom); He would have been righteously subject, “having taken upon him the form of a servant,” and as such come, “not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him.” And it is thus, I apprehend, the Son shall be subject, when God—not the Father, which would be confounding everything, and not be what the word teaches, but “God —shall be all in all,” Father, Son and Holy Ghost; but the rule taken out of man’s hands, into which it had been put, through the obedience of Christ. Therefore it is not until after the resurrection that He says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and earth,” etc. All things are delivered unto Him as the Son of God, as heir of all, in whom all centres. This inheritance He has not yet taken. But at present “all power is given unto him” as the appointed Man, according to the glorious mystery in which, as the Son, for whom (and by whom) all things were made. He took it up as the Redeemer in the Person of Jesus; but the power was given to Him as the obedient Man.
12 This gospel is properly the Jewish gospel of Messiah (while consequently shewing the passing away of the present and introduction of a new order of things); saints are therefore called by the term “righteous “or “just.” “Saints “more properly speaking, is a Gentile name, or at least either a Christian one, or applicable to the sanctified remnant of the last days, as separated out of the mass, though both terms are true of either class. It is a revelation to the then believing Jew, it being true still, that, in consequence of the rejection of Christ, and the purpose of God contained therein, the believer’s portion would not be in the Son’s kingdom upon earth, but in the Father’s.
13 This I believe to be the real subject of the Revelation, and the first chapters to exhibit this [using language suited]; to clothe within itself, indeed, the glorious result seen through faith, but to be that by which we can understand, as regards the kingdom, the anomaly of present circumstances, intermediate between the rejection of the Son of man, and His manifestation in the irrefutable glory of His own kingdom, when the righteous also shall be in the Father’s. Let us understand and be patient till He takes to Him His great power and reigns.
14 By this is not meant prophecy in the sense of edification and comfort, of course.
15 Formally, that is, in the actual assumption of acquired power as man, I believe the angels became the servants of the Son of man when He had overcome Satan—as ministers of the Jewish position of which He had become the redeeming Head—as the agents of God’s providential power in the world, which was now shewn to be in His hand, because He had vanquished (in obedience and faithfulness) the prince of it. We read, accordingly, in Matthew, this gospel of dispensation, “Then the devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him.” So we find in that marvellous passage in Luke 22, “And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”
16 The power over evil in the world being forbidden to the church, its having power in the world necessarily involves it in the recognition or allowance of evil.
17 “To take out of them (the Gentiles) a people for his name,” Acts 15:14.