Matthew 13 -16

Matthew 13

At the close of the previous chapter our Lord disowned all the natural ties which bound Him to Israel. I speak now simply of His bringing it out as a matter of teaching; for we know that, historically, the moment for finally breaking with them was the cross. But ministerially, if we may so say, the break occurred and was indicated now. He took advantage of an allusion to his mother and brethren to say who His real kindred were — no longer those who were connected with Him after the flesh: the only family He could own now were such as did the will of His Father in heaven. He recognizes nothing but the tie formed by the word of God received into the heart and obeyed accordingly. The Holy Ghost pursues this subject by recording, in a connected form, a number of parables which were intended to show the source, the character, the conduct and the issues of this new family, or at least of those who professed to belong to it. This is the subject of Matthew 13. A striking instance it is how manifestly the Holy Ghost has grouped the materials into the particular shape in which we actually have them; for we know that our Lord spoke more parables than are here given. Comparing it with the Gospel of Mark, we find a parable that differs materially from any which appears in Matthew. In Mark it is a person who sows the ground and sleeps and rises night and day, waiting for the germination and the full growth and the ripening of the corn, and then himself gathers it in. This diverges very considerably from all the parables of the earlier Gospel; yet we know from Mark that the parable in question was uttered on the same day. “With many such parables spake He the Word unto them, as they were able to hear it; but without a parable spake He not unto them. . . . And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.”

Just as the Holy Ghost selects certain parables in Mark which are inserted, while others are left out (and the same in Luke), so also was it the case in Matthew. The Holy Ghost is conveying fully God’s mind about the new testimony, commonly called Christianity, and even Christendom. Accordingly, the very beginning of this chapter prepares us for the new scene. “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside” (ver. 1), Up to this time the house of God was connected with Israel. There God dwelt, as far as this could be said of the earth; He counted it as His habitation. But Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the seaside. We all know that the sea, in the symbolic language of the Old and New Testaments, is used to represent masses of men, roving hither and thither outside, and not under the settled government of God. “And great multitudes were gathered unto Him, so that He went into a ship and sat.” From thence He teaches them. “And the whole multitude stood on the shore.” The very action of our Lord indicated that there was to be a very widespread testimony. The parables themselves are not confined to the sphere of our Lord’s previous dealings, but take in a much more extensive range than anything which He had spoken in past times. “He spake many things unto them in parables” (ver. 3). It is not intimated that we have all the parables our Lord spoke; but the Holy Ghost here gives us seven connected parables, all brought together and compacted into a consistent system, as I shall endeavour to show. The Holy Ghost is clearly exercising a certain authority as to the parables selected here, for we all know that seven is the scriptural number for that which is complete: whether it speak of good or evil, spiritually, seven is regularly the number used. When the symbol of twelve is used it expresses completeness, not spiritual, but as to what has to do with man. Where human administration is brought into prominence for carrying out the purposes of God, there the number twelve appears. Hence we have the twelve apostles, who had a peculiar relation to the twelve tribes of Israel; but when the Church is to be presented, we hear again the number seven — “the seven churches.” However that may be, we have seven parables here, for the purpose of giving a complete account of the new order of things about to begin — Christendom and Christianity, the true as well as the spurious.

The first question, then, that occurs is, How comes it that we have this series of parables here and nowhere else? Certain of them are in Mark, and certain in Luke; but nowhere, except in Matthew, have we seven, the complete list. The answer is this: Nothing can be more beautiful, or more proper, than that they should be given in a Gospel presenting Jesus as the Messiah to Israel; then, on His rejection, showing what God would next bring out. To the disciples, when their hopes were melting away, what could be of deeper interest than to know the nature and end of this testimony? If the Lord should send out His word among the Gentiles, what would be the result? Accordingly, Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that gives us a complete sketch of the kingdom of heaven; as it also gives us the intimation that the Lord was going to found the Church. It is only in Matthew that we have both brought out. This, however, I reserve for another day; but I must observe that the kingdom of heaven is not the same thing as the Church, but rather the scene where the authority of Christ is owned, at least outwardly. It may be real or not, but every professing Christian is in the kingdom of heaven. Every person who, even in an external rite, confesses Christ, is not a mere Jew or Gentile, but in the kingdom. It is a very different thing from a man’s being born again and being baptized by the Holy Ghost into the body of Christ. Whoso bears the name of Christ belongs to the kingdom of heaven. It may be that he is only a tare there, but still there he is. This is a very solemn thing. Wherever Christ is outwardly confessed, there is a responsibility beyond that which attaches to the rest of the world.

The first parable clearly was true when our Lord was on earth. It is very general, and would apply to the Lord in person or in spirit. Hence it may be said to be always going on; for we find in the second parable the Lord presented again, still sowing good seed: only here it is the “kingdom of heaven” that is likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. The first is Christ’s work in publishing the word among men, while He was here below. The second rather applies to our Lord sowing by means of His servants; that is, the Holy Ghost working through them according to the will of the Lord while He is above, the kingdom of heaven being then set up. This at once furnishes an important key to the whole subject. But inasmuch as the matter of the first parable is very general, there is a great deal in all the moral teaching of it which applies as truly now as when our Lord was upon earth. “A sower went forth to sow” — a weighty truth indeed. It was not thus that the Jews looked for their Messiah. The prophets bore witness of a glorious ruler, who would establish His kingdom in their midst. No doubt there were plain predictions of His suffering as well as of His exaltation. Our parable describes neither suffering nor outward glory; but a work carried on by the Lord, of a distinct character from anything the Jew would naturally draw from the bulk of the prophecies. Nevertheless, our Lord, I conceive, was alluding to Isaiah. It is not exactly the gospel of grace and salvation to the poor, wretched, and guilty, but it is one who, instead of coming to claim the fruits of the vineyard set up in Israel, has to begin an entirely new work. A sower going forth to sow marks evidently the commencement of that which did not exist before. The Lord is beginning a work not previously known in this world. “And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up.” That was clearly the most desperate case of all. It was null and void, not because of any fault of the seed, but from the destructive agency of the fowls which devoured what was sown.

Next we have, “Some [that] fell upon stony (rocky) places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth.” There was a more hopeful appearance in this case. The word was received, but the ground was stony; there was no depth of earth. Appearances were very quick — “forthwith they sprung up.” There is little or no sense of sin. All is taken in but too readily. “The plan of salvation” may be thought to be excellent; the enlightenment of the mind may be undeniable; but such an one has never measured his awful condition in God’s sight. The good word of God is tasted, but the ground is rocky. Conscience has not been properly exercised. Whereas, in a real work of heart, conscience is the soil in which the word of God takes effect. There never can be a real work of God without a sense of sin. Where warm feelings are excited, but sin slurred over, it is the case spoken of here — the word received at once, but the ground remains really unbroken — rocky. There is no root because there is no depth of earth: consequently, “when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root they withered away.”

But, further, “Some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them.” This is another case; not exactly that wherein the heart received the word at once. And we should have as little confidence in the heart as in the head. The flesh differs in different individuals. Some may have more mind, and some more feeling. But neither can savingly receive the word of God, unless the Holy Ghost acts on the conscience and produces the sense of being utterly lost. Where this is the case, it is a real work of God, which sorrows and difficulties will only deepen. Those that received the seed among thorns are a class devoured by the anxieties of this age, and led away by the deceitfulness of riches, which choke the word, so that no fruit comes to perfection.

But now comes the good ground. “Other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (vers. 8, 9). The sower here is the Lord Himself, yet out of four casts of the seed, three are unsuccessful. It is only the last case where the seed bears ripe fruit; and even there the issue is chequered and hindered — “some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” — natural things still hinder fruitfulness, more or less.

What a tale of man’s heart and the world these parables disclose! Even where the heart does not refuse, but outwardly receives the truth, it can abandon it as quickly. The same will that makes a man gladly receive the gospel, makes him drop it in the face of difficulties. But, in some cases, the word does produce blessed effects. It fell upon good ground, and brought forth fruit indifferent degrees. “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” A solemn admonition to souls, to look well to it whether or not they produce according to the truth they have received.

The disciples now come and say unto Him, “Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?” and the Lord makes it an occasion to explain these things unto them. “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” The same parable would be just like the cloud of Israel in a former day — full of light to those within, full of obscurity to those without. Thus it is with the sayings of our Lord. So solemn was the crisis with unbelieving Israel now, that it was not His intention to give clearer light. Conscience was gone. They had the Lord in their midst, bringing in full light, and He was refused, especially by the religious leaders. He had now broken with them: here was the clue to His conduct. “To you it is given to know,” etc. It was kept from the multitude, and this because they had already rejected the clearest possible proofs that Jesus was the Messiah of God. But, as He says here, “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance.” Such was the case with the disciples. They had already received His person, and now the Lord would supply with truth to lead them on. “But whosoever hath not” (the Christ-rejecting Israel), “from him shall be taken away even that he hath” — the Lord’s bodily presence and the evidence of miracle would soon pass away. “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand” (ver. 13). That judicial sentence of darkness which Isaiah had pronounced upon them hundreds of years before, was now to be sealed, though the Holy Ghost still gives them a fresh testimony. And this very passage is afterwards quoted to mark that it is a finished thing with Israel. They loved darkness rather than light. What is the good of a light to one that shuts his eyes? Therefore would the light be taken away too. “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 desired to see those things which ye see and have not seen them: and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” (vers. 16, 17).

Then follows the explanation of the parable. We have the meaning of “the fowls of the air” given us. It is not left to any conjecture of our own. “When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom” (this was being preached then: it is not exactly the word of the gospel,” but “of the kingdom”) and understandeth it not,” etc. In Luke it is not called “the word of the kingdom,” nor is it said, “understandeth it not.” It is interesting to observe the difference, because it shows the way in which the Holy Ghost has acted in this Gospel. Compare Luke 13. The first of these parables is given us in Luke 8:11. “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God” — not the word of the kingdom, but “of God.” There is, of course, a great deal in common between the two; but the Spirit had a wise reason for using the different expressions. It would, rather, be giving an opportunity to an enemy, unless there had been some good grounds for it. I repeat that it is “the word of the kingdom” in Matthew, and “of God” in Luke. In the latter we have “that they should believe,” and in the former, “that they should understand.” What is taught by the difference? It is manifest that, in Matthew, the Holy Ghost has the Jewish people particularly in view; whereas in Luke, the Lord had particularly the Gentiles be. fore Him. They understood that there was a great kingdom which God was about to establish, and destined to swallow up all their kingdoms. With the Jews, already familiar with the word of God, their great point was understanding what God taught — which self-righteousness never understands. You might be controverted had you said to a Jew, You do not believe what Isaiah says; and a serious question came, Do you understand it? But for the Gentile, who had not the lively oracles, instead of setting up his own wisdom, the question was believing. what God said; and this is what we have in Luke. In Matthew, speaking to a people. who had the word already, the great thing was to understand it. This they did not. The Lord shows that, if they heard with their ears, they did not understand with their hearts. This difference, when connected with the different ideas and objects of the two Gospels, is alike interesting and instructive.

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not” (ver. 19). Another solemn truth we learn from this: the great thing that hinders spiritual understanding is religious prejudice. The Jews were charged with not understanding. They were not idolators or open infidels, but had a system of religion in their minds in which they had been trained from infancy, which darkened their intelligence of what the Lord was bringing out. So it is now. But among the heathen, though the state be morally evil, yet in the barren waste the word of God might be freely sown, and, by grace, be believed. That is not the case where people have been nurtured in ordinances and superstition: there the difficulty is to understand the word. “Then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in the heart.” The answer to the fowls, in the first parable, as we saw, is the wicked one taking away the word of the kingdom as soon as it is sown.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it” (ver. 20). There you have the heart, moved in its affections, but without exercise of conscience. Anon with joy the word is received. There is great gladness about it, but there it ends. It is only the Holy Ghost acting upon the conscience that gives what things are in God’s sight. “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”

Then we have the thorny ground: “He also that received seed among the thorns is he. that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” There is a case that might have seemed promising for a time; but anxiety about this world, or the flattering ease of prosperity here below, rendered him unfruitful, and all is over. “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it” (all through it is spiritual understanding); “which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Now we come to the first of the similitudes of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the sower was the preparatory work of our Lord upon earth. “Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way” (vers. 24, 25) — exactly what has come to pass in the profession of Christ. There are two things necessary for the inroad of evil among Christians. The first is, the unwatchfulness of the Christians themselves. They get into a careless state, they sleep; and the enemy comes and sows tares. This began at an early epoch in Christendom. We find the germs even in the Acts, and still more in the Epistles. 1 Thessalonians is the first inspired epistle that the apostle Paul wrote; and the second was written shortly after. There he tells them that the mystery of iniquity was already at work; that the apostasy and the man of sin were to follow; and that when the lawlessness should be fully manifest (instead of working. secretly), then the Lord would put an end to the lawless one and all concerned. The mystery of iniquity is akin to the sowing of the tares spoken of here. Some time after, “when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit” — when Christianity began to make rapid strides in the earth, “then appeared the tares also.” But it is evident that the tares were sown almost immediately after the good seed. No matter what the work of God is, Satan is always close upon its heels. When man was made, he listened to the serpent, and fell. When God gave the law, it was broken even before it was committed into the hands of Israel. Such is always the history of man.

So the mischief is done in the field, and never repaired. The tares are not for the present taken out of the field: there is no judgment of them. Does this mean that we are to have tares in the Church. If the kingdom of heaven meant the Church, there ought to be no discipline at all: uncleanness of flesh or spirit, swearers, drunkards, adulterers, schismatics, heretics, antichrists, would have to be allowed within it. Here is the importance of seeing the distinction between the Church and the kingdom. Of the tares now in the kingdom of heaven the Lord says: “Let both grow together until the harvest” (ver. 30), that is, till He come in judgment. Were the kingdom of heaven the same as the Church, it would, I repeat, amount to no less than this: that no evil, let it be ever so flagrant or plain, is to be put out of the Church till the day of judgment. We see, then, the importance of making these distinctions, which too many despise. They are all-important for truth and holiness; nor is there a single word of God that we can do without.

But this parable has nothing to do with the question of Church communion. It is “the kingdom of heaven” that is spoken of — the scene of the confession of Christ, whether true or false. Thus Greeks, Copts, Nestorians, Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, are in the kingdom of heaven; not believers only, but all who outwardly profess Christ’s name. Some may be immoral or heretical, yet are not to be put out of the kingdom of heaven. But would it be right to receive ouch at the table of the Lord? God forbid! The Church (the assembly of God) and the kingdom of heaven are two different things. A person falling into open sin is not to be allowed in Church communion; but you cannot put him out of the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it could only be done by taking away his life; for the rooting up of the tares involves this. And this is what worldly Christianity did fall into, in no very long space of time after the apostles were departed from the earth. Temporal punishments were brought in for discipline; laws were made for the purpose of handing over the refractory to the subservient civil power. If they did not honour the so-called church, they were not to be suffered to live. Thus, the very evil our Lord had been guarding the disciples against came to pass: and the emperor Constantine used the sword to repress ecclesiastical offenders. He and his successors introduced temporal punishments to deal with the tares, to try and root them up. Take the church of Rome, where you have .;o thoroughly the confusion of the Church with the kingdom of heaven: they claim, if a man is a heretic, to hand him over to the courts of the world to be burnt; and they never confess or correct the wrong, because they pretend to be infallible. Supposing that their victims even were tares, this is to put them out of the kingdom. If you root up a tare from the field, you kill it. There may be men outside profaning the name of God; but we must leave them for God to deal with.

For Christian responsibility towards those who surround the Lord’s table we have full instructions in what is written about the Church. “The field is the world;” but the Church only embraces those who are members of Christ’s body. Take 1 Corinthians, where the Holy Ghost gives us the order of God’s house and its discipline. Supposing some there are guilty of unrepented sin; such persons are not to be owned, while they are going on in that sin. A real saint might fall into open sin, but the Church, knowing it, is bound to intervene to express God’s judgment about the sin. Were they deliberately to allow such an one to come to the Lord’s table, they would in effect make the Lord a party to that sin. The question is not whether the person be converted or not. If unconverted, men have no business in the Church; if converted, sin is not to be winked at. The guilty are not put out of the kingdom of heaven; they are to be put out of the Church. So that the teaching of the word of God is most plain as to both these truths. It is wrong to use worldly punishments to deal with a wicked person in spiritual matters. I may seek the good of his soul, and maintain God’s honour with regard to sin, but this is no reason for using worldly punishment. The unconverted are to be judged by the Lord at His appearing. This is the teaching of the parable of the tares; and it gives a very solemn view of Christianity. There is a remedy for evil which enters the Church, but not yet for evil in the world.

This is the only Gospel containing the parable of the tares. Luke gives the leaven. Matthew has the tares also. It particularly teaches patience for the present, in contrast with Jewish judicial dealings, as well as with their just expectation of a cleared field under the reign of Messiah. The Jews would say, Why should we allow enemies, ungodly heretics? Even when our Lord was here below, and some Samaritans received Him not, James and John wished to command fire to come down from heaven to consume them. But the Lord had not then come for judgment, but to save. The judgment of the world must wait for His return.

But we have further instruction. “Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into My barn” (ver. 30). Thus the heavenly saints are to be gathered into the Lord’s barn, to be taken out of the earth to heaven. But “the time of the harvest” implies a certain period occupied with the various processes of ingathering. It is not said that the wheat is to be bound in bundles in order to be taken to heaven. There is no intimation of any special preparatory work about the saints before they are taken up. But there is such a dealing of God with the tares. The angels are to gather the tares in bundles before the Lord clears them out of the field. I do not pretend to say how that will be, or whether the system of associations in the present day may not pave the way for the final action of the Lord as regards the tares. But the principle of worldly association is growing apace.

The parable of the wheat-field had fully shown, what must have been an unexpected blow to the thoughts of the disciples, that the opening dispensation would, as regards man’s maintaining the glory of God, fail as completely as the past one. Israel had dishonoured God; they had wrought, not deliverance, but shame and confusion in the earth; they had failed under law, and would reject grace so thoroughly that the King would be obliged to send His armies to destroy those murderers and burn up their city. But if there was to be a new work in gathering disciples to the name of Jesus by the word preached to them; was that also to be spoiled in the hands of man? The salvation of souls is indeed secure in God’s hands; but the trial of what is committed to man’s responsibility turns out now, as ever, a complete failure. Man came short of the glory of God in Paradise, and outside he corrupted his way and filled the earth with violence. Afterwards God chose a people to put them to the test, and they broke down. And now came the new trial: What would become of the disciples who professed the name of Christ? The answer has been given: “While men slept, the enemy sowed tares;” and the solemn announcement declares that no zeal on their part could remedy the evil. They might be faithful and earnest themselves; but the evil that has been done by the introduction of the tares — false professors of Christ’s name — will never be eradicated. The Lord evidently speaks of the vast field of Christian profession, and of the sad fact that evil was to be introduced from the very beginning; and, once brought in, it would never be turned out till the Lord Himself returns to judgment, and by His angels gathers the tares in bundles to burn them, while the wheat is gathered into the barn.

If the Church is in our thoughts in reading Matthew 13, we shall never understand the chapter. “The field is the world” — the sphere where the name of the Lord is professed, and extending much beyond what could be called the Church. There might be, and are, many persons who would call themselves Christians, and yet show by their ways that there was no real faith in them. These are called “tares.” There are many, whom nobody believes to be born of God, who, nevertheless, would be shocked if they were regarded as infidels. They acknowledge Christ as the Saviour of the world, the true Messiah, but it is as entirely inoperative upon their souls, as theirs was who believed in Christ when they saw the miracles which He did (John 2:23). Jesus does not commit Himself to such now any more than He did then.

The next parable intimates that the evil would not be merely the intermingling of a false profession, but something quite different would surely follow. It might be connected with the tares, and grow out of them; but another parable was required to set it forth. Beginning with the smallest nucleus, most humble as regards this world, there was to be that which would assume vast proportions in the earth, which would strike its roots deeply among the institutions of men, and rise up into a system of vast power and earthly influence. This is the mustard-seed springing into a great tree, into whose branches the birds of the air come and lodge. These last the Lord had already explained as the wicked one, or his emissaries. (Comp. vers. 4 and 19.) We must never depart from the meaning of a symbol in a chapter unless there be some fresh and express reason for it, which in this case does not appear. Thus we have the smallest of all the seeds that grow into anything like a tree; and from this very small beginning there comes a stem with branches sufficiently capacious to yield a shelter and a home to the birds of the air. What a change for the Christian profession! The destroyer is now housed in its bosom!

Then follows the third parable, again of a different nature. It is not a seed, good or bad. It is not the small now becoming lofty and large, a protective power in the earth, and for what? But here we find that there would be the spread of doctrine within — “leaven,” used here, as well as elsewhere, for doctrine. For instance, we have “the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” which our Lord called, leaven.” The thought here is to symbolize that which spreads and permeates what is exposed to it. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (ver. 33). The three measures of meal are not legitimately assumed to mean the whole world, as many have done, and still do.8 It is not usual to find the truth make such way. We know what the heart is, and we may infer that the doctrine which is so thoroughly spread under the name of Christ must be very far departed from its original purity when it becomes welcome to masses of men. We have, moreover, seen the tares — which do not imply anything good — mingled with the wheat. We have had the mustard-seed grown into a tree, and strangely harbouring the birds of the air, which erst preyed on the seed that Christ sowed. Again, whenever “leaven” occurs symbolically in the word of God, it is never employed save to characterize corruption which tends to work actively and spread; so that it must not be assumed to be the extension of the gospel. The meaning, I doubt not, is a system of doctrine which fills and gives its tone to a certain given mass of men. On the other hand, the gospel is the seed — the incorruptible seed — of life, as being God’s testimony to Christ and His work. Leaven has nowhere anything to do with Christ or giving life, but expressly the contrary. Hence there is not the smallest analogy between the action of leaven and the reception of life in Christ through the gospel. I believe that the leaven here sets forth the propagandism of dogmas and decrees, after that Christendom became a great power in the earth (answering to the tree — which was the case, historically, in the time of Constantine the Great). We know that the result of this was an awful departure from the truth. When Christianity grew into respectability in the world, instead of being persecuted and a reproach, crowds of men were brought in. A whole army was baptized at the word of command. Now the sword was used to defend or enforce Christianity.

“No meat (meal) offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven” (Lev. 2:11) — the woman here in the parable is doing what the law strictly forbids. Leaven being always in Scripture a type of evil, putting it in the meal is introducing evil doctrine in the bread of God — the food of His people. See John 6:32, 33.

The woman too in this parable should remind us of Eve leading “in the transgression”; and still more of “that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants,” etc. (Rev. 2:20) — again doing what is forbidden. See 1 Tim. 2:12-14. Why should commentators interpret leaven as good spreading out, or the gospel subduing the whole world? It is like the twelve in Luke IS: 31-34 to whom the Lord spoke of His rejection, His sufferings, death, and resurrection; but “they understood none of these things.” In their mind the kingdom was about to be restored to Israel; so they could not understand the plainest words about Messiah’s rejection. Preconceived ideas prevent the reception of most simply-expressed truth. Ed.

Observe, too, that thus the interpretation flows on harmoniously. We have parables devoted to distinct things, which may have a certain measure of analogy one to another, and yet set forth distinct truths in an order which cannot but commend itself to a spiritual, unprejudiced mind. Much depends on a, due understanding of that which is meant by “the kingdom of heaven.” ‘Let us not forget that it is simply the authority of the Lord in heaven acknowledged upon the earth. When it becomes a thing the world takes cognizance of as a civilizing power in the earth, it is no longer the mere field sown with good seed which the enemy may spoil with bad, but the towering tree, and the wide and deeply-working leaven. Such is the very unexpected disclosure which our Lord makes. The multitude might admire, but the wise would understand. The disciples needed to be instructed that there was to be a state of things wholly different from what they expected; that although the Messiah was come, He was going away; that, while He would be in the heavens, the kingdom would be introduced in patience, not power — mysteriously, and not yet to sight; and that therein the devil would be allowed to work just as before, only taking his usual advantage to spoil and corrupt, in a special way, the new truth and condition about to be introduced.

So far, then, these parables show the gradual growth of evil. First, there is the mingling of a little evil with a great deal of good, as in the case of the wheat field. Then the rising up of that which is high and influential from the lowly origin of early Christianity. Instead of having tribulation in the world, the christian body becomes a patron or benefactor, exercising authority in it, and the most aspiring of the world seeking to it for what they want. After that a great propagation of doctrine suited to worldly conditions follows, as the folly of Paganism and the narrowness of Judaism became the more apparent to men, and as their interests carried them with the new worldly system.

Mark a change now. The Lord ceases to address Himself to the multitude, who had been in view thus far. As it is said, “All these spake Jesus to the multitude: and without a parable spake He not unto them.” But now Jesus sends the multitude away, and goes into the house. I would call your attention to this, because it divides the parables, and inaugurates a distinct set. The parables which follow were not such as the multitude could see or enter into. In the separation of these last three parables from the previous four, we have an analogy to those feasts set forth in Leviticus 23, where after the passover and the unleavened bread, the offering of the first-fruits and the feast of weeks following one another, you have an interruption; after which come the feasts of trumpets, of atonement, and, finally, of tabernacles. The apostle teaches us that Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us; so that we have to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread inseparably connected with it. Then we have the resurrection of Christ — the sheaf of first-fruits, followed by Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” These feasts are accomplished in us Christians. But the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement, and the feast of tabernacles which follow the first four, it would be absurd to apply to the Church; their application will be to the Jews. Thus, as in the middle of Leviticus 23 the break indicates a new order of subjects, so in this chapter, where it is just as marked. And while the first parables apply to the outward profession of Christ’s name, the final ones pertain especially and intimately to what concerns real Christians. The multitude could not enter into them. They were the secrets of the family, and, therefore, the Lord calls the disciples within, and there He unfolds all to them.

But before He enters upon a new subject, He gives further information on the former. The disciples ask Him, “Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.” Ignorant as they might be, still they had confidence in their Lord, and that what He had spoken He was willing to explain. “He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man: the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom: but the tares are the children of the wicked one” (vers. 37, 38). The Son of Man and the wicked one, it has been well remarked, are opposed to each other. As in the Trinity, we know there is a suited part which each blessed Person bears in their work of blessing, so the sad contrast appears in evil outside. As the Father brings out specially His love, and separates from the world through the revelation of it in Christ; as you have the Holy Ghost, in contrariety to the flesh, the great agent of all the Father’s grace, counsels, and ways; so Scripture holds forth Satan always acting as the grand personal antagonist of the Son. The Son of God has come “that He might destroy the works of the devil.” The devil makes use of the world to entangle people, to excite the flesh, stirring up the natural liking of the heart for present honour and ease. In opposition to all this, the Son of God presents the glory of the Father as the object for which He was working by the Holy Ghost.

Discrimination runs strongly through the Lord’s explanation to the disciples in the house. In the first of the parables, the good is thoroughly separate from the evil, but in the last of the three all is merged into an undistinguished lump. At first, all was plain. On the one hand the Son of Man sows the good seed, and the result is the children of the kingdom. On the other hand, there is the enemy, and he is sowing his bad seed — false doctrines, heresies, etc.; and the result of this is the children of the wicked one. The devil has taken the opportunity of Christianity for making men worse than if there never had been any fresh and heavenly revelation. In God’s sight, that which falsely bears the name of Christ is a more wicked thing than any other. Never has so much righteous blood been shed as by the hand of so-called religion, and from whom it shall be required. See Matt. 23:34-36. Popery has been the full carrying out of this earthly religion. And every religious system of the world tends to persecute whatever falls not in with it. The bitterness and opposition towards those who are seeking to follow the Lord in our day is the same kind of thing that broke out into the horrors of the dark ages, and lingers still in the “holy office” of the inquisition when and where ever it holds up its head.

To continue: “The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels.” “The world” inverse 38 must not be confounded with “the world” in verse 39. They are totally distinct words and things. “The world” inverse 39 means the age. It is a course of time, and not a geographical sphere. In verse 38 the sphere is intended, wherein the gospel goes forth; in verse 39 it is the space of time in which the gospel is either advancing or hindered by the enemy’s power. The harvest is the consummation of the age, that is, of the present dispensation — the time while the Lord is absent, and the gospel is being proclaimed over the earth. Grace is actively going forth now. The only means which God employs to act upon souls are of a moral or spiritual sort. The angels introduce providential judgment; while the gospel lays hold of poor sinners to save them. The Lord intimates here that an end will be put to the present sending out of the word of the kingdom, and a day when the effects of Satan’s working must be fully developed and judged. “The reapers are the angels.” We have nothing to do with the judicial part, only with the spread of the good; the angels, with the judgment of the wicked. “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world.” The same word is used for “world” in verse 40 as in verse 39. Unfortunately, our version gives only the same English word in all.

Many scriptures show a future time and state of things for the world totally different from what the gospel contemplates. I will refer to one or two in the prophets. Take Isaiah 11, which speaks first of our Lord under the figure of a branch out of the roots of Jesse. It is plain that this is true of Christ, whether at His first or second advent. He was born an Israelite, and of the family of David. And again, as to the Holy Ghost resting upon Him, we know that this was true of Him when He was a man here below: but in verse 4 we find another thing: “With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.” If you argue that this applies now, because in the kingdom of heaven the Lord acts upon the souls of the meek, etc., I ask you to read a few words more: ,,And He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.” Is the Lord doing this now? Clearly not. Instead of slaying. the wicked with the breath of His lips, is He not converting the wicked by the word of His grace? — in entire contrast with what is described here. In Rev. 19 we have the same period of judgment, where the Lord is seen with a sword proceeding out of His mouth. It represents righteous judgment executed by the bare word of the Lord. As He spoke the world into being, He will speak the wicked into perdition. Taking this as the indubitable meaning of what is mentioned here in Isaiah, what follows? — a state of things quite unlike what we have now under the gospel: “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

All this is not what we have now. Instead of the world being converted by preaching the gospel, Scripture emphatically declares that in the latter days perilous times should come; and that in the last times shall prevail, not the truth of Christ, but the lie of Antichrist (1 John 2); not the triumph of the good, but of the bad, till the Lord puts forth His own hand; and this is what is reserved for His appearing and kingdom. “He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.” The Lord is not smiting the earth now. He has opened heaven: but by and by He will take the earth. In the Revelation you have the vision of the mighty angel, with his right foot upon the sea and the left on the earth. It is the Lord taking the whole universe under His own immediate government. Now the mystery of iniquity is left unjudged. Evil is allowed to go on rampant in the world. But this will not be for ever The mystery of God is to be finished. Then will begin this amazing change, “the regeneration,” as our Lord styles it, when the Spirit of God shall be poured out, and the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But till these times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord, Scripture calls the intervening space the evil age. So in Galatians 1:4, not the material world is meant, but the moral course of things, that is, “this present evil age.” The new age, on the contrary, will be glorious, holy and blessed.

In the very next verse, of Isaiah 11, we have the restoration of God’s ancient people foretold, the gathering in of all Israel as well as. of Judah. At the return from the Babylonish captivity such was not the case. A small fraction of Judah and Benjamin came back, and only a few individuals of Israel. The ten tribes are universally called “the lost tribes;” whereas, “It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. . . . And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea” — a thing that has never been done, nor anything like it. “And with His mighty wind shall He shake His hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of His people which shall be left from Assyria, like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.” Both in the Egyptian sea and in the Nile there be will this great work of God, outstripping what He did when He brought the people out the first time by Moses and Aaron.

This will be the age to come, but in the present age the tares and the wheat are to grow together till the harvest, which is the consummation of this age; and when it arrives, the Lord sends forth His angels, “and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.” The severing then takes place: the tares are gathered and cast into a furnace of fire, and “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Mark the accuracy of the expression, I’ Then shall they shine forth;” not “Then shall they be caught up.” It will be a new age, in which is no mingling of the good and bad: but the gathering out of the wicked for judgment closes this age, in order that the good may be blessed in the next.

So here, we have the upper region, called the kingdom of the Father; and the lower, the kingdom of the Son of Man. “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels , and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.” These are not even allowed to be on the earth, but are cast into a furnace of fire. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Both are “the kingdom of God.” What a glorious prospect! Is it not a sweet thought that even this present scene of ruin and confusion is to be delivered? that God is to have the joy of His heart, not only in filling the heavens with His glory, but in the Son of Man honoured in the very place where He was rejected?

But let us now look at the next parable. 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” (ver. 44). This is the first of the new parables within the house. The Lord is there showing, not the state of things found under the public profession of the name of Christ, but the hidden things, or those which require discernment. It is a treasure hid in a field, which a man finds and hides, and for joy thereof sells all that he hath and buys the field. I am aware that it is the habit of persons to apply this to a soul finding Christ. But what does the man in the parable do? He sells all that he has to buy the field. Is this the way for a man to be saved? If so, salvation is a question not of faith, but of giving up everything to gain Christ, which is not grace, but works carried to the utmost. When a man has Christ, he would doubtless give up everything for Him. But these are not the terms on which a man first receives Christ for his soul’s need. But this is not all: “The field is the world.” Am I to buy the world in order to obtain Christ? This only shows the difficulties into which we fall whenever we depart from the simplicity of Scripture. The Lord Himself confutes such an interpretation. He shows that there is one Man, one only, who saw this treasure in the midst of the confusion. It is Himself, who gave up all His rights in order that He might have sinners washed in His blood and redeemed to God; it was He who bought the world, in order to acquire the treasure He valued. The two things are distinctly presented in John 17:2, “As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.” There is the treasure: “As many as Thou hast given Him.” He buys the whole, the outside world, in order to possess this hidden treasure.

But, moreover, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (vers. 45, 46). The parable of the hid treasure 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.” That is what is seen here — “One pearl of great price.” I do not in the least doubt that its spirit may be applied to every Christian; but I believe it is intended to set forth the loveliness of the Church in the eyes of Christ. It could not be fully said of a man awaking to believe the gospel, that he is seeking goodly pearls? And before conversion, the sinner is rather feeding on husks with the swine. Here it is one who seeks “goodly pearls,” which no unconverted man ever really sought. There is no possibility of applying these parables except to the Lord Himself. How blessed it is that, in the midst of all the confusion which the devil has wrought, Christ sees in His saints a treasure, and the beauty of His Church, spite of all infirmities and failure!

Then we have all wound up by the parable of the net which is thrown into the sea (vers. 47-50). It is a figure used to remind us that our energies and desires must be directed after those who are floating about in the sea of the world. The net is cast into the sea, and gathers of every kind, “which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.” Who are “they”? Never do we find the angels gathering the good, but always severing the wicked for judgment. The fishers were men, like the servants in the first parable. But it is not only the gospel that we have here. The net gathers in of every kind. It is shown us that out of every class, before the Lord returns in judgment, there was to be a mighty operation of the Spirit through the fishers of men, gathering saints together in a way quite unexampled. May not the spirit of this be going on now? The gospel is going out with remarkable power over all lands. But there is another action — the gathering the good together and putting them into vessels. The bad are cast away; but this is not the end of them. “The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire.” The angels’ business is always with the wicked; the servants’ with the good. The severing of the wicked from among the just is not the fishermen’s work at all; and their casting of the bad away is not the same thing as the furnace of fire.9

Then “the pearl of great price” — the Church which He loves and for which “He gave Himself,” and will adorn Himself with it as His companion and bride, in heavenly glory.

Then “the net” cast into the Gentile sea after the Church is “caught up” to meet her Bridegroom-the Gospel of the Kingdom going out and gathering a multitude, to be sorted by the administrators of the government of God at the close of that brief age. We commend the pamphlet to the reader, also the “Numerical Bible” on the Gospels, by the same author. Ed.

In commenting on chapters 8 and 9 of our Gospel, some striking instances of displacement have been already pointed out. Thus the incidents of crossing the lake in the storm, of the cured demoniacs, of the raised daughter of Jairus, and of the woman healed on the way, belong, as matters of history, to the interval between the parables we have been lately occupied with and the despising of our blessed Lord, which our Evangelist proceeds to* set down next in order. I have sought to explain the principle on which, as I believe, the Holy Spirit was pleased to act in thus arranging the events, so as most vividly to develop our Lord’s Messianic ministry in Israel, with His rejection and its consequences. Hence it is that the intervening facts having been inserted in that earlier portion, the unbelief of Israel in presence of His teaching naturally follows. He was in His own country and taught them in their synagogues; but the result, spite of astonishment at His wisdom and mighty works, is the scornful inquiry, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? . . . And they were offended in Him.” A prophet He is, but without honour in His own country and in His own house. The manifestation of glory is not denied; but Him in whom it was manifested, is not received according to God, but judged according to the sight and apprehensions of nature (vers. 54-58).

Matthew 14

Nor is this the whole sad truth. About this time the twelve were sent forth. This we have had in chapter 10, forming part of the special series of events transplanted into that part of the Gospel; but, in point of time, it followed the people’s fleshly judgment of Christ. Their mission was beautifully given before by Matthew, so as to complete the picture of Christ’s patient persevering grace with Israel, as well as to testify the rights of His person as Jehovah, the Lord of the harvest. Here consequently the fact is omitted, but the effect appears. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him.”

This gives occasion to the Spirit of God to tell the tale (vers. 3-12) of the extinction of John the Baptist’s testimony in his own blood. It was not only a blinded people, but in their midst ruled a false and reckless king, who feared not first to imprison, and finally to slay, that blessed witness of God. Not that he did not fear the multitude (ver. 5); for his passions would have impelled to do the deed; nor that he had not sorrow and qualms when it came to the point (ver. g); but what can these restraints avail against the wiles and power of Satan? Bad as Herod was, he was not altogether without a conscience, and the preaching of John had reached it, so far at least as to render him uneasy.’ But the issue was what one might expect who knows that an enemy is behind the scene, hating all that is of God, and goading man on to be his own slave and God’s foe, in the gratification of lust and the maintenance of honour worse than vanity. What an insight into the world and the heart we have here from God! And with what holy simplicity all is laid bare which it would be profitable for us to hear and weigh! “Man being in honour abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.” So sang the Psalmist, and surely it was right and of God. “And he (the king) sent and beheaded John in the prison; and his head was brought in a charger and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother” (vers. 10, 11). Such is man, and such woman, without God.

When word was brought to the Lord about John’s death, He marks His sense of the act at once — “He departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed Him.” There was no insensibility in Him, whatever His longsuffering and grace. He felt the grievous wrong done to God and His testimony and His servant. It was the harbinger of a storm still more violent and a deed of blood darker far — the awful sin of His own rejection. He would not hurry the moment, but retires. He was a sufferer, a perfect sufferer, as well as a sacrifice; and while His sufferings rose to their height in that most solemn hour when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, it would be to ignore much if we limited our thoughts and feelings of His love and moral glory to His closing agony. The Lord, then, so much the more felt the evil, because of His unselfish love and unstained holiness. It is ever felt most in God’s presence, where Jesus felt everything. The work of rejection goes on.

Did this deep sense in His spirit of the growing power of evil in Israel interrupt the course of His love? Far from it. “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick” (ver. 14). Let murderous unbelief act as it may, He was Jehovah, present here below in humiliation, but in divine power and grace.

The disciples poorly profit by His grace, and leave small space for the display of His beneficent power. So, when it was evening, they “came to Him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals” (ver. 15). “Send the multitude away!” — Away from Jesus? what a proposal! The greatness of the strait, the urgency of the need, the difficulty of the circumstances, which to unbelief are so many reasons for men to do what they can, are to faith just so much the more the plea and occasion for the Lord to show what He is. “Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.” Oh, the dullness of man! — the folly and slowness of heart in disciples to believe all! And yet, beloved friends, have we not seen it? Have we not proved the selfsame thing in ourselves? What lack of care for others! What measuring of their wants, in the forgetfulness of Him who has all power in heaven and on earth, and who, in the same breath that assures us of it, has sent us forth to meet the deepest necessities of sin-darkened souls!

“And they say unto Him, We have here but five loaves and two fishes.” Ah! were they, are we, so blind as to overlook that it is not a question of what, but whom, we have? Jesus is nothing to the flesh even of disciples.

He said, “Bring them hither to Me.” Oh for more simplicity in thus bringing every lack and every scanty supply to Him whose it is to provide, not for us only, but for all the exigencies of His love; to reckon on Him more habitually as One who cannot act beneath Himself.

“And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (vers. 19-21).

How blessed the scene, and how the perfectness of Christ shines through it all! In nothing does He depart from grace, spite of the recent display of murderous hatred in Herod; His very retiring apart before it is but a further step in the path of His sorrow and humiliation; and yet there, in the desert, to this great multitude, drawn out by their wants, comes forth this striking testimony. Should they not have assuredly gathered who and what He was? Jehovah had chosen Zion — had desired it for His habitation — had said, “This is My rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” But now an Edomite was there, the slave of a ravening Gentile; and the people would have it so, and the chief priests would shortly cry, “We have no king but Caesar.” Nevertheless, the rejected One spreads a table in the wilderness, abundantly blesses Zion’s provision, and satisfies her poor with bread. The miracle may not be the fulfilment of Psalm 132:5, but it is the witness that He was there who could, and yet will, fulfil it. He is the Messiah, but the rejected Messiah, as ever in our Gospel. He satisfies His poor with bread, but it is in the wilderness, whither He had withdrawn apart from the unbelieving nation and the wilful apostate king.

But now a change opens on our view. For “straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone” (vers. 22, 23). The crown was not yet to flourish upon Himself. He must leave His ancient people because of their unbelief, and take a new position on high, and call out a remnant to another state of things also. Rejected as Messiah on earth, He would not be a king by the will of man to gratify the worldly lusts of any, but go above, and there exercise His priesthood before God. It is an exact picture of what the Lord has done. Meanwhile, if the masses of Israel (“the great congregation”) are dismissed, His elect are ushered into a scene of troubles in the absence of their Master during the night of man’s day. “The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary.”

Such were some of the consequences of Christ’s rejection. Apart on high, and not in the wilderness, He prays for His own; locally severed, and yet in truth far nearer, He prays for the disciples left alone, to outward appearance. They are “such as should be saved,” the chosen ones, companions of His own humiliation while the nation despised Him.

“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (vers. 25-31.) Without dwelling now on the moral lesson, with which we are all more or less familiar, a few words on the typical instructions conveyed by the passage may be welcome.

He will leave His intercessional place above, and rejoin His disciples when their troubles and perplexity are deepest. The mountain, the sea, storm and calm, darkness and light, are all, as to security, alike to Christ; but His taking part in the distress is the terror of the natural mind. At first even the disciples “were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear,” only hushed by the sign of His speedy presence. This hardly goes beyond the circumstances and condition of the Jewish remnant. If there be any part which does, it is set forth in Peter, who, on the word of Jesus, quits the ship (which presents the ordinary state of the remnant), and goes to meet the Saviour outside all support of nature. It is our part to cross the world by divine power; for we walk by faith, and not by sight. The wind was not hushed, the waves as threatening as ever; but had not Peter heard that word “Come”; and was it not enough? It was ample as from the Lord and God of all. “And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.” As long as Jesus and His word were before his heart, there was no failure any more than danger. “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Peter failed, as the Church has failed, to walk toward Christ and with Christ; but, as in his case so in ours, Christ has been faithful, and has delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in “whom we trust that He will yet deliver.” “And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God” (vers. 32, 33).

Jesus now rejoins the remnant, and calm immediately follows, and He is owned there as the Son of God. Nor this only, for “they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of Him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto Him all that were diseased, and besought Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment; and as .many as touched were made perfectly whole” (vers. 34-36). The Lord is now joyfully received in the very scene where before He had been rejected. It is the blessing and healing of a distressed and groaning world, consequent on His return in acknowledged power and glory.

Matthew 15

We find in this chapter striking evidence of the great change which was now fast coming in through the rejection of Jesus by Israel. For, first, we have certain religious guides, “Scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem,” who had the best spiritual opportunities of their nation, and who came clothed with all that savoured of antiquity and outward sanctity. These men put the question to our Lord, “Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” The Lord proceeds to deal with conscience. He does not enter into an abstract discussion about tradition; nor does He dispute with them as to the authority of the elders; but He at once lays hold of the plain fact that, in their zeal for the tradition of the elders, they were setting themselves point-blank against the clear, positive commandment of God. This I believe to be the invariable effect of tradition, no matter with whom it may be found. If we take up the history of Christendom, and consider any rule that ever was invented, it will be found to carry those who follow it in opposition to the mind of God. It may seem to be the most natural thing possible, and growing out of the new circumstances, of the Church; but we are never safe in departing from God’s word for any other standard.

I am not now contending for the bare literal interpretation of Scripture. A certain course that the word of God binds upon His saints in dealing with one evil may not be their duty at some other crisis. New circumstances modify the path the Church ought to pursue. Were you to apply the directions given for judging immorality to fatal error touching our Lord’s person, you would have a very insufficient measure of discipline. False doctrine does not touch the natural conscience as gross conduct. Nay, you may too often find a believer drawn away by his affections to make excuses for those who are fundamentally heterodox. All sorts of difficulties fill the mind where the eye is not really single. Many might thus be involved who did not themselves hold the false doctrine. If I hold the principle of dealing with none but him who brings not the doctrine of Christ, it will not do; for there may be others entangled with it. What is any individual, what is the Church even, in comparison with the Saviour, the Son of the Father? Accordingly, the rule laid down by the Spirit for vindicating Christ’s person from blasphemous assailants, or their partisans, is far more stringent than where it is a question of moral corruption, be it ever so bad.

Again, there is a strong tendency to stereotype our own previous practice, and when some fresh evil comes in, to insist on what was done before, or generally, without inquiring afresh of God and searching into His word in view of the actual case before us and our own responsibility. The spirit of dependence is needed in order to walk rightly with God. There is in the written word of God that which will meet every claim; but each case should be a renewed occasion for consulting that word in His presence who gave it. People like to be consistent with themselves, and to hold fast former opinions and practices.

Our Lord, in this place, asserts that deference to mere human tradition leads into direct disobedience of God’s will. Washing the hands might have seemed to be a most proper act. Nobody could pretend that Scripture forbade it; and, no doubt, the Jewish doctors could press its great significance. They might very well argue how calculated it was to keep before their minds the purity God insists on, and especially that we ought never to receive anything from His hand without putting away all defilement from ours. They might reason thus to a people who loved all outward routine. At all events they might say, What was the harm of such a tradition? But our Lord simply comes to this issue: “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? “By means of their tradition God was disobeyed. The command to honour the father and mother was the first commandment with promise, as the apostle says in writing to the Ephesians. Other commandments had the threat of death annexed to them; this commandment carried the promise of long life upon the earth. The apostle’s reasoning is, that, if a Jewish child was not only bound, but encouraged by such a promise, to venerate his parents, how much more is a christian child to obey them — not merely in the law, but in the Lord.

The Lord, then, confronts the Pharisees with, “God commanded, saying, honour thy father and mother; and he that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” Honour to parents was valued by God; and disrespect was deadly in His sight — “But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and honour not his father or his mother . . .” The Jews had brought in a cheat (to quiet their consciences) by which they might free themselves from the obligation to meet filial duties. They had only to pronounce the word, “It is a gift” (Corban), and a parent might be forgotten! Doubtless, it was one of their authorized traditions, and for the priest’s profit, but in God’s sight a direct breach of His command. “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” And this is what tradition usually does, whether in Romanism or elsewhere. To add to Scripture is ruinous: it does not matter by whom it may be done, or for whatever holy motives men may allege; God is jealous about it, and will not have His word enlarged or amended. Revelation is complete, and our simple business is to be obedient to the word of God.

Take, for instance, the choice of a minister. People, Christians, say, We must send for ministers, and choose between them who is to be ours. I am willing to conceive care and conscience in exercising their judgment. But where is the warrant for choosing any one whatever to preach the gospel, or to teach the Church? Is there one precept, or one instance, in all the New Testament? Did God, then, not foresee the difficulties and the wants of congregations? Surely He did. Why, then, is there absence of all such directions for them? Because it was a sin to do it; not only not His mind but contrary to it. There is not a single case, nor anything like it, in Scripture from the time the Holy Ghost was sent down at Pentecost. Yet multitudes of churches are spoken of in Scripture. What, then, is a congregation to do when they want a minister? Why not search and see the Scripture way of meeting the need? The difficulty arises from their being in a false position already. The central truth of the Church is the presence of the Holy Ghost. I am speaking now of the Christian assembly, wherein the Spirit is personally present to act according to His own will in the midst of disciples there gathered for the purpose of glorifying God and exalting Christ. In such a meeting the question of choosing a minister would not arise. So that, if you take this common Protestant tradition of choosing a minister, it is in distinct opposition to the word of God. It might be good for a Christian assembly to feel their weakness. There might be none with any special gift among them: some might be able to help in worship and prayer, though not in preaching or teaching. But the blessed comfort is that, even if there were none specially gifted in the Word, the Holy Ghost is able to edify the saints without such. God in His wisdom may be pleased to raise up none in a particular assembly, or He may send there two, three, or more to minister. I do not believe that any one man has sufficient gifts for the Church. The notion of having a single person to be the exclusive organ of the communications of God to His people is a wrong to them and, above all, to the Lord. At, the Reformation the point was to get the Bible that poor souls might learn of Christ for their salvation. But nearly all that was known of the truth ended there. The Reformation never touched the true question of the Church. The reformers had to deal with a very rough enemy. They had to blow up the masses of rock in the quarry; and we must not find fault if they could not fashion the stones nor build them with equal skill. But we ought not to stop at their hewings.

Here, with the Pharisees, it was not mere following tradition, but using it to indulge hypocritical selfishness. “Ye hypocrites,” says our Lord,” well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Those who pretended such zeal for the law were the while destroying it by their tradition, dishonouring God’s own authority in the earthly relationships He had established and honoured. So He adds, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

Upon this, the Lord calls the multitude, and says to them, “Hear and understand: not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” It is the religious leaders chiefly that occupy themselves with tradition. The great general snare is denying the evil of men. The deception which Satan constantly uses now is the idea that man is not so bad but moral culture may improve him. The progress of the world is astonishing, they say. There are societies for promoting every philanthropic object, and for the improvement of man. The faults are sought for in the circumstances of surroundings instead of in man. Here is a word that pronounces on these efforts of men in the gross: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” The real secret of man’s deplorable condition is his heart. This affects all that comes out.

It is not in any wise what God made. Man is now a corrupt creature, whose corruption is imparted to what he takes in. Therefore mere restraining of the flesh is entirely useless in God’s sight and essentially false. The Lord says to the multitude, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Observe, He has done with the question of Jerusalem and of tradition. He speaks of what touches human nature. Man is lost. But no one thoroughly believes this about himself, till he has found Christ. He may believe he is a sinner, but does he believe he is so bad that no good toward God can be got out of him? Is not the prevalent theory and effort to better man’s condition? But our Lord declares here that the heart is bad; and till the heart is reached, all else is vain. “But the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart.” God’s way is to deal with the heart. What so simple, so blessed, so mighty, as the gospel? And the gospel needs no handmaid? The handmaid has lost her mission and is discharged. Hagar was sent out of the house, and the son born after the flesh only mocks the child of promise. Man is not now in a state of probation. The trial has been made. God has pronounced that the flesh is utterly worthless; and yet man is constantly re-trying the question, instead of believing God.

The disciples did not altogether relish what the Lord had been saying. They came and said unto Him, “Knowest Thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?” They might not be offended themselves, but were disposed to sympathize with the people who were. But our Lord answers still more sternly, “Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” There needs a new life from God, not an improving of the old one. A plant of heavenly origin must be planted, then, and the heavenly Father must do it. Every other plant shall be rooted up. “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind.” Reasoning with these Pharisees is altogether vain. They require first principles, and the work of God in their souls. All discussion therefore is useless. “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind.” He did not apply this to the multitude, but to the leaders that were stumbled by the doctrine of man’s total corruption. Such are best left to their own devices. “Let them alone . . . And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

But the Lord does not leave the disciples where they were. Peter answers and says unto Him, “Declare unto us this parable.” What did he mean by calling it a parable? He did not understand it himself. Here was one, the very chief of the twelve apostles, and he cannot understand our Lord when He tells them that man is altogether wrong — his heart most of all; making that which comes out of him evil — not that which goes in. And this is a parable! The difficulty of Scripture arises less from difficult language than from unpalatable truth. Truth is contrary to people’s wishes; they cannot see it, because they do not like to receive it. A man may not be always conscious of this himself, but it is the real secret that God sees. The obstacle consists in man’s dislike of the truth. Jesus answered, “Are ye also yet without understanding? Do ye not yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” The source of man’s evil is from within. And, therefore, until there is a new life brought in — till man is born again, of water and of the Spirit — all is useless. “These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”

Here closes our Lord’s blessed and weighty instruction, showing that the day of outward forms was past, and that it was now a question of the reality of man’s state in the sight of God.

The Lord now turns away from these scribes and Pharisees and goes to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, at the very extremity of the Holy Land, and that particular quarter of the border of it which had been expressly the scene of the judgments of God.

In chapter 11 our Lord had referred to them, and said that it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for the cities where His mighty works had been done. They were proverbial as the monuments of God’s vengeance among the Gentiles.10 There a woman of Canaan meets Him. If there was one race more particularly under God’s ban, it was Canaan. “Cursed be Canaan,” said Noah. The youth, Canaan, seems to have been specially the leader of his father in his wickedness against his grandfather Noah. “Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” And when Israel was brought into the land, the Canaanites, sunken in deep corruption, were to be exterminated without mercy. Their abominations had gone up to heaven with a cry for vengeance from God. Here, this woman came out of the coasts of Canaan, and cries unto Him, saying, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” (ver. 22). If we could conceive any case most opposed to what we had before — scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem, full of learning and outward veneration for the law — we have it in this poor woman of Canaan.

The circumstances too were dreadful. Not only was it in Tyre and Sidon, recalling the judgments of God, but the devil had taken possession of her daughter. All these circumstances together made the case as deplorable as one could find. How was the Lord to deal with her? The Lord shows, in meeting her case, a great change in His ways. The Jews He had pronounced hypocrites; their worship intolerable to God, and declared such through their own prophets: for in pronouncing them hypocrites, He did it out of the lips of their own prophet Isaiah. Now comes one that had not the smallest tie with Israel. How would the Messiah deal with her? She cries unto Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered her not a word.” Not a word!

Why was this? She was on totally wrong ground. What had she to do with the Son of David? Had the Lord merely been the Son of David, could He have given her the blessing He had in His heart? She appealed to Him as if she were one of a chosen people who had claims upon Him as their Messiah. Was it ever promised that Messiah was to heal the Canaanites? Not a word about it. When the Messiah does come as Son of David, the Canaanites will not be there. Look at Zechariah 14, when our Lord shall be King over all the earth, “In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts.” The judgments which were not thoroughly executed by Israel, because they were unfaithful to the trust of the Lord, are to be executed when the Son of David will take His inheritance. This woman was altogether confused about it. She had the conviction that He was much more than the Son of David, but she did not know how to bring it out. It is, I think, in much the same way that many persons now, anxious about their sins, have tried the Lord’s Prayer, and have asked the Father to forgive them their sins as they forgive others. They go to God as their Father, and ask of Him to deal with them as children. But this is the very thing which is not yet settled. Are they children? Can they say that God is their Father? They would shrink from it. It is that which they chiefly desire, but they fear it is not so; that is, they have no right to draw near to God on the footing of a relationship which does not exist. And when persons are thus confused, they never get thorough peace to their souls. Sometimes they are hoping they are children of God, sometimes fearing they are not, cast down with the sense of the evil within them. The fact is, they do not understand the matter at all. They are quite right in wishing to turn to God, but they do not know how to do it. They fear going to God just as they are giving up all thought of having promises or anything else. This shows the wrongness of an anxious soul seeking after God on the ground of promises. A good deal is said about sinners “grasping the promises:” but promises in the Old Testament were for Israel; in the New, for Christians. But you are neither an Israelite nor a Christian. A soul brought to that point is confounded.

It is good for a soul to be brought to this: I have no claim upon God for anything; I am a lost sinner. If God shakes a person from what they have no right to, if He strips them of everything, it is for the purpose of giving them a blessing that He has a right to give them. People forget that now it is the righteousness of God — God’s right to bless through Christ Jesus, according to all that is in His heart. Men are lost; but they are afraid to confess the true ruin in which they are found. To this the Lord was leading the poor woman of Canaan. He was bringing her down to feel that she had no right to the promises — made indeed to Israel, but where were any promises to the Canaanites? Thus, on the ground of His being the Son of David it was impossible for the Lord to give her what she asked. She did not understand this. She thought that if an Israelite might go on the ground of promise, she might. But it is a mistake. The poor woman thus made it meet not to answer her. It was grace and tenderness that led Him not to answer her: He remains silent till she drops the ground that she had first taken.

But the disciples were not silent; they wanted to get rid of her importunity; they did not like the trouble of her. “They came and besought Him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us.” But the Lord confirms what has been already said as to the wrongness of her plea. He says, as it were, She does not belong to the house of Israel: I cannot give her a blessing on the ground she takes, but I will not send her away without a blessing. He was there with special privileges to the sheep of the house of Israel, but she was not a sheep. “He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then the poor woman “came and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me.” She drops the words “Son of David.” She no longer uses the title which connects Him with Israel, but acknowledges generally His authority. Now He answers her, though she is not yet low enough. When she appeals to Him as Lord, a suitable title, He answers, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs.” The moment that this is uttered, all the secret is out. “Truth, Lord,” she says, “yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She takes the place of being a dog. She acknowledges that Israel was, in the outward ways of God, the favoured people, as children eating of bread upon the table; whereas, the Gentiles were but the dogs underneath. She acknowledges it, and it is very humbling. People do not like it now. But she is brought down to it. The Lord may, for the purpose of leading us into deeper blessing, break us down to the very lowest point of the truth about ourselves. But was there no blessing even for a dog? She falls back upon this truth: Let it be that I am a dog; has not God some blessing for me? Here the Lord meets her with fullest blessing. He meets her with the strongest approbation of her faith — “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” The Lord had pronounced the sentence upon the nation of the Jews who were only hypocrites, and gone out to the Gentiles. Faith meets Him there; a faith that penetrates through outward circumstances, and bears the discovery of the low place we ought to take; and the poor woman is blessed to her heart’s content. “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Unlimited grace is bestowed upon a Gentile under special curse; and the heart of our Lord is refreshed by her faith.

But there is more. Having visited the Gentiles, the Lord now returns to Israel in sovereign goodness. “Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the Sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel” (vers. 29-31). I consider that this is a picture of Israel feeling their real condition. They are coming to Jesus, looking to Him, and saying, as it were, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” They are to speak thus by and by; and the Lord declared they should not see Him till they should say, “Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” What they saw in Jesus led them to glorify the God of Israel. Thus the Lord will have relations with Israel. They come, not now in controversy, but as a poor, maimed, blind, and miserable multitude; and the Lord heals them all. But this is not all: He feeds them as well as heals them; and we have the beautiful miracle of the loaves.

But mark the differences. In a former case, the disciples were for sending the multitudes away; and the Lord allowed them to show out their unbelief., In the present instance, it is Christ Himself who thinks of them and purposes to bless them. “I have compassion on the multitude,” He says, “because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (ver. 32). You may remember that it is said in Hosea 6, “After two days will He revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.” It is the adequate time of the trial of the people. Literally, it was the time our Lord lay in the grave. But it is connected also with the future blessing of Israel. “I will not send them away fasting lest they faint by the way. And His disciples say unto Him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” How slow they are to learn the resources of Christ, as before to learn the worthlessness of man! “Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few fishes.” It is not now five loaves and twelve baskets full left; but with seven loaves they begin, and with seven baskets full they end. The reason is this: seven stands for spiritual completeness in Scripture, and this is intended to show the fulness with which the Lord makes the blessing to flow to His people — the fulness of provision that they have in Him. “He took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.” I conceive this to be a picture of the Lord providing amply for the Jews — the beloved people of His choice, whom He never can abandon, to whom He must accomplish His promises, because He is the faithful God. Here the Lord, out of His own heart, is providing fully even for their bodily refreshment. This will be the character of the millennial day, when not only the soul will be blessed, but when every kind of mercy will abound; God vindicating His earth from the hand of Satan, who had long defiled it. In the seven loaves before they ate, and the seven baskets of fragments taken up after they had eaten, you have the idea of completeness, an ample store for the present and for wants to come.

Matthew 16

In the last chapter, which introduces a new part of the subject in Matthew, we saw two great pictures: first, the hypocritical disobedience of those who boasted of the law completely exposed out of their own prophets, as well as by the touchstone of the Lord Himself; and, secondly, the true nature of grace shown to one whose circumstances demanded nothing but sovereign mercy if she were to be blessed at all. At the close, the Lord’s patient and perfect grace towards Israel is manifested, spite of the condition of the Jewish leaders. If He compassionated the Gentiles, His heart still yearned over His people, and He showed it by repeating the great miracle of feeding thousands in their needy condition; with no figure here of retirement from earth, which we saw in chapter 14, following the first miracle of feeding the multitudes — the type of our Lord’s occupation at the right hand of God.

Now we have another picture, quite distinct from the previous one, though akin to it. It is not the flagrant disobedience of the law through human tradition, but unbelief — the source of all disobedience. Hence, in the language employed by the Holy Ghost, there is only a shade of difference between the words unbelief and disobedience. The former is the root of which the latter is the fruit. Having shown us the gross systematic violation of God’s law, even by those who were religious leaders in Israel, and having convicted them of it, a deeper principle is now brought out, All that disobedience Godward flowed from unbelief of Himself, and, consequently, misapprehension of their own moral condition. These two things always go together. Ignorance of self flows from ignorance of God; and ignorance of both ourselves and God is proved by despising Jesus. And what is true in full of the unbeliever, partially applies to the Christian who in any measure slights the will and person of the Lord. All these are only the workings of that heart of unbelief of which the apostle warns even believers. The grand provision against this, the operation of the Holy Ghost, in contrast with the working of the natural mind of man, comes out here plainly.

“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting, desired that He would show them a sign from heaven.” They were beginning the same story over again; but now it is higher up the source, and, of course, therefore, worse in principle. It is an awful thing to find opposed parties with one only thing uniting them — dislike of Jesus; persons who could have torn each other to pieces at another time, but this is their gathering point — tempting Jesus. “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting,” etc. There was no conflict between the scribes and Pharisees, but a wide chasm separated the Sadducees and Pharisees. Those were the freethinkers of the day; these the champions who stood up for ordinances and the authority of the law. But both joined to tempt Jesus. They desired a sign from heaven. The most significant token that God ever gave man was before them in the person of His Son, who eclipsed all other signs. But such is unbelief, that it can go into the presence of the full manifestation of God, can gaze at a light brighter than the sun at noonday, and there and then ask God to give a farthing candle.

But Jesus “answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (vers. 2, 3). Their own moral condition was the sign and proof that judgment was imminent. For those who could see, there was the fair weather, the Day-spring from on high that had visited them in Jesus. They saw it not! But could they not discern the foul weather! They were in the presence of the Messiah, and were asking for a sign from heaven! The God that made heaven and earth was there, but the darkness comprehended it not. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” They were utterly blind. They could discern physical changes, but had no perception of moral and spiritual glories actually before them. How truly — “A wicked and adulterous generation seek after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And He left them and departed.”

Men constantly err as to the character of Jesus. They imagine that He could use no strong language and feel no anger; yet there it is in the Word, written in the light. Unbelief is always blind, and betrays its blindness most against Jesus. The same unbelief that could not then discern who and what Jesus was, sees not now Jesus coming, and discerns not the signs of their own impending ruin. It is the moral condition of men, no matter where they are, only the more remarkably manifested where the light of God is.

Our Lord does not hesitate to touch the evil with unsparing hand. He was the perfect manifestation of love: but let men remember He is the one who said, “wicked and adulterous generation,” “generation of vipers,” etc.”? It flows from true love — if men would but bow to the truth that convicts them. To submit to God’s word, to the truth now, in this world, is to be saved; to be convicted of the truth only in the next world is to be lost for ever. Christ was the faithful and true Witness; He brought God face to face with man, and caused His perfect light to shine upon them. Jesus can meet a soul in its ruin; He may eat with publicans to show that He is able to receive sinners — yea, came to seek and to save the lost, and to forgive sins to the uttermost; but He will never give any sign to satisfy the unbelief that rejects Him. These Pharisees and Sadducees would not hear His voice of grace, and they had to hear their own sentence from the judge of all the earth: “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” Had Jesus not been there, to ask for a sign would not have been so wicked; but His presence made it audacious unbelief and frightful hypocrisy. And what was this sign? The sign of one that disappeared from the earth; that, through the figure of death, passed away from the Jewish people, and after a while was given back to them. It was the symbol of death and resurrection, and our Lord immediately acted upon it. He “left them and departed.” He would pass under the power of death; He would rise again, and the message which Israel had despised, He would carry to the Gentiles.

But there are other forms of unbelief; and the next scene (ver. 5) is with His disciples: so true is it that what you find working in its grossest shape in an unconverted man may be traced, in another way perhaps, in believers. “Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” They did not understand Him; they reasoned among themselves; and whenever Christians begin to reason, they never understand anything. “They reasoned among themselves saying, It is because we have taken no bread.”

There is such a thing, of course, as sound and solid deduction. The difference is that wrong reasoning always starts from man and tries to rise to God, while right reasoning starts from God towards man. The natural mind can only infer from his experience, and thus forms his ideas of what God must be. This is the basis of human speculation in divine things; whereas, God is the source, strength and guide of the thoughts of faith. How do I know God? In the Bible, which is the revelation of Christ from the first of Genesis to the end of Revelation. I see Him there, the key-stone of the arch, the centre of all Scripture speaks of; and unless the connection of Christ with everything is seen, nothing is understood aright. There is the first grand fallacy, the leaving out of God’s revealing Himself in His Son. It is not the light behind the veil as under the Jewish system, but infinite blessing now that God has come to man, and man is brought to God. In the life of Christ I see God drawing nigh to man, and in His death man brought nigh to God. The veil is rent; all is out, of man on the one hand, and of God on the other, as far as God is pleased to reveal Himself to man in this world. All stands in the boldest relief in the life and death of Christ. But disciples are apt to be very dull about these things now as ever; and so when He warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they thought that He was merely speaking of something for daily life — very much like what we see at the present time. But our Lord “said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread” (ver. 8). Why did they not think of Christ? Would they have troubled themselves about loaves if they had thought rightly of Him? Impossible! They were anxious, or thought Him so, about bread! “Do ye not yet understand,” says the Lord, “neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (vers. 9-12). And this is what disciples even now often misapprehend. They do not understand the hatefulness of unsound doctrine. They are alive to moral evils. If a person gets drunk or falls into any other gross scandal, they know, of course, it is very wicked; but if the leaven of evil doctrine work, they do not feel it. Why is it that disciples are more careful of that which mere natural conscience can judge, than of doctrine which destroys the foundation of everything both for this world and for that which is to come? What a serious thing that disciples should need to be warned of this by the Lord, and even then not understand! He had to explain it to them. There was the darkening influence of unbelief among the disciples, making the body the great aim, and not seeing the all-importance of these corrupt doctrines, which menaced souls in so many insidious forms around them.

But there is another way and scene in which unbelief works. This chapter is the dissection of the root of many a form of unbelief. “By faith we understand,” says the apostle to the Hebrews. The worldly man tries to understand first and then to believe; the Christian begins with the feeblest understanding, perhaps, but he believes God: his confidence is in One above himself; and thus, out of the stone there is raised up a child unto Abraham. The Lord now questions the disciples as to the real gist of all the matter, whether among Pharisees, Sadducees, or disciples themselves. “He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” It is now Christ’s person which comes out; and this, I need hardly say, is deeper than all other doctrine. “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets” (vers. 13, 14). There are so many opinions among men, unbelief argues, that certainty is impossible. Some say one thing and some another: you talk of truth and Scripture; yet, after all, it is only your view. But what says faith? Certainty, from God, is our portion, the moment that we see who Jesus is. He is the only remedy that banishes difficulty and doubt from the mind of man. “Whom say ye that I am?” (ver. 15). This was for the purpose of bringing out now what is the pivot of man’s blessing and God’s glory, and becomes the turning point of the chapter. Among these very disciples we are to have a blessed confession from one of them — the power of God working in a man who had been rebuked for his want of faith before, as he was indeed just after. When we are really broken down before God about our little faith, the Lord can reveal some deeper higher view of Himself than we ever had before. The disciples had mentioned the various opinions of men: one said He was Elias; another, John the Baptist, etc. “But whom say ye that lam? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Glorious confession! In the Psalms He is spoken of as the Son of God, but very differently. There He is dealing with the kings of the earth, who are called upon to take care how they behave themselves. But the Holy Ghost now lifts up the veil to show that the “Son of the living God” involves depths far beyond an earthly dominion, howsoever glorious. He is the Son of that living God who can communicate life even to those dead in sin. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.”

First, the Father is revealing; and the moment Christ hears Himself confessed as the Son of the living God, He also sets His own seal and honours the confessor. It is the assertion of one who at once rises up to His own intrinsic dignity: “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He gives Simon a new name. As God had given to Abraham, Sarah, etc., because of some fresh manifestation of Himself, so does the Son of God. It had been prophetically announced before; but now comes out for the first time the reason why it was affixed to him. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.” What rock? The confession Peter had made that Jesus was the Son of the living God. On this the Church is built. Israel was governed by a law; the Church is raised on a solid and imperishable and divine foundation — on the person of the Son of the living God. And when this fuller confession breaks from the lips of Peter, the answer comes, Thou art Peter — thou art a stone: a man that derivest thy name from this Rock on which the Church is built.

In the early chapters of the Acts, Peter always speaks of Jesus as God’s holy Servant. He speaks of Him as a man who went about doing good; as the Messiah. slain by the wicked hands of men, whom God raised up from the dead. Whatever Peter might know Jesus to be, yet when preaching to the Jews, he presents Him to them simply as the Christ, as the predicted Son of David, who had walked here below, whom they had crucified and God had raised again. Then, at Stephen’s martyrdom, a new term is used about the Lord. That blessed witness looks up and says, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” It is not now merely Jesus as the Messiah, but “the Son of Man,” which implies His rejection. When He was refused as the Messiah, Stephen, finding that this testimony was rejected, is led of God to testify of Jesus as the exalted Son of Man at God’s right hand. When Paul is converted, which is given in the next chapter but one, he straightway preaches “Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” He did not merely confess Him, but preached Him as such. And to Paul was entrusted the great work of bringing out the truth about “the Church of God.”

So here, upon Peter’s confession, the Lord says, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.” You understand the glory of My Person; I will show you the work I am going to accomplish. Mark the expression. It is not, I have been building; but I will build My Church. He had not built it yet, nor begun to build it: it was altogether new. I do not mean there had not been souls believing in Him before, and regenerate of the Spirit; but. the aggregate of saints from the beginning to the end of time it is an error to call “the Church.” It is a common notion which has not one shred of Scripture for it. The expression in Acts 7:38, “The church in the wilderness,” means the whole congregation — the mass of Israel — the greater part of whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. Can you call that “the Church of God?” There were but few believers among them. People are deceived in this by the sound. The word, “church in the wilderness,” merely means the congregation there. The very same word is applied to the confused assembly in Acts 19, which would have torn Paul to pieces. If it were translated like Acts 7, it would be the “church in the theatre,” and the blunder is obvious. The word that is translated “church” simply means assembly. To find out what is the nature of the assembly, we must examine the scriptural usage and the object of the Holy Ghost. For you might have a good or bad assembly: an assembly of Jews, of Gentiles, or of God’s assembly distinct from either and contrasted with both, as can be readily and undeniably seen in 1 Cor. 10:32. Now it is this last which we mean, i.e., God’s assembly, when we speak of “the Church.”

What then, to return, does our Lord intimate when He says, “Upon this rock I will build My Church”? Clearly something that He was going to erect upon the confession that He was the Son of the living God, whom death could not conquer, but only give occasion to the shining forth of His glory by resurrection. “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hades” — the power of death — “shall not prevail against it.” This last does not mean the place of the lost, but the condition of separate spirits. “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

The Church and the kingdom of heaven are not the same thing. It is never said that Christ gave the keys of the Church to Peter. Had the keys of the Church or of heaven been given to him, I do not wonder that the people should have imagined a pope. But “the kingdom of heaven” means the new dispensation about to begin on earth. God. was going to open a new economy, free to Jews and Gentiles, the keys of which He committed to Peter. One of these keys was used, if I may so say, at Pentecost when he preached to the Jews; and the other, when he preached to the Gentiles.11 It was the opening of the kingdom to people, whether Jews or Gentiles. “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (ver. 19). The eternal forgiveness of sins has to do with God only, though there is a sense in which forgiving was committed to Peter and the other apostles, which remains true now. Whenever the Church acts in the name of the Lord, and really does His will, the stamp of God is upon their deeds. “My Church,” built upon this rock, is His body — the temple of believers built upon Himself. But “the kingdom of heaven” embraces every one that confesses the name of Christ. This was begun by preaching and baptizing. When a man is baptized, he enters “the kingdom of heaven,” even if he should turn out a hypocrite. He will never be in heaven, of course, if he is an unbeliever; but he is in “the kingdom of heaven.” He may either be a tare or real wheat in the kingdom of heaven; an evil or a faithful servant; a foolish virgin or a wise one. The kingdom of heaven takes in the whole scene of Christian profession.

But, as we have seen, when Christ speaks of “My Church,” it is another thing. It is what is built upon the recognition and confession of His person — “the Son of the living God.” We know that “he that believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” And, again, “He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God overcometh the world.” But there is a deeper power of the Holy Ghost in acknowledging Him as the Son of God; and the higher the acknowledgment of Christ, the more spiritual energy in going through this world and overcoming it. If one believer is more spiritual than another, it is because he knows and values the person of Christ better. All power for Christian walk and testimony depends upon the appreciation of Christ.

Mark also the order of our Lord’s words. First, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” Christ must be found outside the Church, and before it; Christ must be discerned first and foremost by the individual soul; Christ and what He is must, before and above all, be revealed to the heart by the Father. He may employ persons who belong to the Church as instruments, or may directly use His own word. But whatever the means employed, it is the Father revealing the glory of the Son to a poor sinful man; and when this is settled with the individual, Christ says, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.” Faith in Christ is essentially God’s order and way before the question of the Church comes in. This is one great controversy between God and the mystery of iniquity which is now working in this world. The aim of the Holy Ghost is to glorify Christ; whereas that of the other is to glorify self. The Holy Ghost is carrying on this blessed revelation that the Father has made of the Son; and when the individual question is settled, then comes the corporate privilege and responsibility — the Church.

If I have got Christ, it is infinitely blessed. But I ought to believe, also, that He is building His Church. Do I know my place there? Am I found walking in the light of Christ — a living stone in that which He is building — in healthy action as a member of His body? Salvation was wrought here upon earth, and here it is that the Church is being built upon this rock; and the gates of hades — the invisible state, or separate condition — shall not prevail against it. Death may come in, but the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. The Lord says in Revelation that He has the keys of death and hades. The death of the Christian is in the hands of Christ. By the cross He has annulled the power of Satan, and He is the Lord both of the dead and of the living; death is not our Lord, but Christ. “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether, therefore, we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” The Lord has absolute right over us; and therefore death is robbed of all that makes it so terrible. In Revelation you have the Lord with the keys of death and hades. The keys of the kingdom of heaven He gives to Peter because he it was who was to preach to Jews and Gentiles. The door was flung open on the day of Pentecost first, and afterward yet more widely when the Gentiles were brought in.

Administration is also committed to Peter, both in binding and loosing; it is authority to act publicly here below, with the promise of ratification above: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” That is first said to Peter; and doubtless, from what we have in Matt. 18:18: “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” the binding and the loosing applies also to the other disciples; not to the apostles only, but, I believe, to the disciples as such. Compare also the charge in John 20:19-23. On that principle people are received into the Christian Church, and on that principle wicked persons are put away till repentance justifies their restoration. Apostles or disciples do not forgive sins as a matter of eternal judgment, of course, which God alone has the power to do. But God requires of us to judge a person’s state for reception into or exclusion from the circle which confesses the name of Christ here below. In Acts 5 Peter bound their sin on Ananias and Sapphira. This does not prove that they were lost; but the sin was bound upon them, and brought present judgment. Neither Peter nor Paul was at Corinth; and there the Lord Himself laid His hand upon the guilty: some were weak and sickly, and some had fallen asleep. This does not decide against their final salvation — rather, indeed, the contrary. When they were judged of the Lord they were chastened, that they should not be condemned with the world (that is, that they should not be lost). They might be taken away by death, and yet be saved in the day of the Lord. The Church puts away a wicked person. The man at Corinth, whom they were told to excommunicate, was guilty of heinous sin, but was not lost. He was delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be “saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” In the next epistle we find this person so overwhelmed with sorrow on account of his sin that they were charged to confirm their love to him. Simple indeed is the binding and loosing which people often make so mysterious. The only sins that the Church ought to judge are those that come out so palpably as to demand public repudiation according to the word of God. The Church is not to be a petty tribunal of judgment for everything. We ought never to claim the assembly’s intervention except about the evil that is so plain as to be entitled to carry the consciences of all along with it. This I take to be the meaning of binding and loosing.

“Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ.” A remarkable change comes here. Peter had confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God: now the Lord charges them to tell no one that He was the Christ. It was as good as saying, It is too late; I am rejected as the Christ — the Messiah, the Anointed of Jehovah. He is refused by Israel, and He accepts the fact. But mark another thing: “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (ver. 2 1). In Luke 9:20, we are told, “He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.” “The Son of the living God” is not mentioned in Luke: consequently, nothing is said about the building of the Church. How perfect is Scripture! In Luke the Lord goes on to say, “The Son of Man must suffer many things,” etc. There is a great distinction between “the Christ” and “the Son of Man.” The latter is His title as rejected, then as exalted in heaven.

Forbidding the disciples to tell that He was the Christ is the turning-point in Christ’s ministry. The meaning is that Christ drops His Jewish title, and He speaks of His Church. Before it comes, He says, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.” From that time He began to show unto them how that He must “go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” Luke adds that “He must first suffer,” etc. All this is connected with the building of the Church, which began to be built after Christ rose from the dead and took His place in heaven. In Ephesians the Church is spoken of only after Christ’s resurrection and His taking a new place in heaven have been brought out. We had God choosing the saints in Christ Jesus, but, not the Church. Election is an individual thing. He chose us — you and me, and all the other saints — that “we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” But when Paul has introduced Christ’s death and resurrection, he says that God “gave Him to, be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”

But mark a solemn fact. Immediately after Simon had made this glorious confession of the Lord Jesus, he is called, not Peter, but Satan! He had not said one improper word, according to human judgment. He had not even indulged in haste, as was often his wont. The Lord never called mere excitement “Satan”; but He so called Peter. because he sought to turn Him away from suffering and death. The secret was this: Peter had his mind on an earthly kingdom, and neither fully felt what sin was nor what the grace of God was. He stood in the way of the Lord’s going to the cross. Was it not for Peter that He was going there? Had Peter thought of this, would he have said, “Be it far from Thee, Lord?” It was man thwarting Christ, and He pronounces it Satan. “He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (ver. 23). Peter thus feeling and acting connects with the mystery of iniquity; not with what was taught by the Father.

Our Lord turns to the disciples and puts before them that not merely is He going to the cross, but they must be prepared to follow Him there. If I am to be in the true path of Jesus, I must deny myself and take up the cross and follow — not the disciples — not this church or that church, but — Jesus Himself. I must turn from what is pleasing to my heart naturally. I must meet with shame and rejection in this present evil world. If not, depend upon it, I am not following Jesus; and remember, it is a dangerous thing to believe in Jesus without following Him. Following Jesus maybe like losing one’s life. At the present time much confession of Christ is, comparatively, an easy matter. There is little opposition, or persecution. People imagine that the world is changed; they talk of progress and enlightenment. The truth is, Christians are changed. Let us ask ourselves whether we desire to be found taking up our cross and following Jesus. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it” (vers. 24, 25).

What lessons for our souls! The flesh easily arrogates superiority over the spirit; and indulgence to the path of ease comes in (though of Satan) under the specious plea of love and kindness. Is the cross of Christ our glory? Are we willing to suffer in doing His will? What a delusion is present honour and enjoyment!

8 If we but turn to Scripture as its own interpreter, the “three measures of meal” in the parable would naturally refer us to the meal offerings prescribed in the law. They were to be food for the priests, eaten in the holy place, without leaven. See Lev. 6:14-17, and 1 Cor. 5:8.

9 In a pamphlet “The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” by F. W. Grant, the meaning of these three parables is made luminous. The “treasure hid in the field,” setting forth Israel, Jehovah’s “peculiar treasure” (Ps. 134:4) — sought by the Lord, who acquires title over field and treasure by His humiliation and sufferings unto death; and now keeps the hidden treasure for a future day.

10 The overthrow of Tyre predicted in Isa. 23 and Ezek. 26 was only partially accomplished by Nebuchadnezzar who took Judah away captive to Babylon. This ancient and princely merchant-city upon the sea was afterwards not only captured but utterly destroyed by Alexander according to Ezek. 26:3, 4, who sold the remnant of her inhabitants into slavery. — [Ed.

11 It has been thought that the “baptizing” and “teaching,” which the risen Lord commanded in sending the disciples to all nations Matt. 28:18-20 are really the “keys” of the kingdom. — [Ed.