Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1. The same day — The day of the transaction of the last chapter. He delivered the parables of this discourse, at evening took the boat and left; and exhausted by the overwhelming labours of the day, he sunk to slumbers, which were disturbed by the storm, which he stilled by miracle. Went Jesus out of the house — He had been invited to the house of a Pharisee, where he had much discourse. But very probably he went to his own house, from which he departed to the seashore, as here described, sat by the sea side first, probably, with his disciples; but the multitudes soon gathered around him and them. As appears by Mark 4:1, with the notes, he was obliged to enter into the prepared boat and sit in the boat in the sea.
Jesus… sat — While he sat, we find by the next verse that the multitude stood. It was customary in our Saviour’s day for the teacher to sit and the disciple to stand. Rabbi Gamaliel was probably the first who by arrangement took an elevated seat, and allowed his pupils to sit upon seats lower than his own platform. So Saul of Tarsus was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. By the sea side — Of Lake Gennesaret. In regard to the beach of Lake Gennesaret consult our note on Matthew 4:13. Stanley says: “The lake is almost completely surrounded by mountains; but those mountains never come down into the water, but always have a beach of greater or less extent along the water’s edge. It is on this smooth margin ‘beside the Lake Gennesaret’ that we must imagine Jesus ‘standing,’ then stepping into one of the two boats, and bidding Peter launch out into the deep. Luke 5:1-2; Luke 5:4. From the boat, that lay close by for the purpose, he addressed them his teaching in parables, and they stood on the beach.”
§ 49. — THE SEVEN PARABLES, Matthew 13:1-52.
As Matthew has in chapters eight and nine exhibited our Lord as a performer of mighty works, namely, ten miracles, so now he here presents him as a parabolist. SEVEN PARABLES — FOUR at the sea side, and THREE indoors — are grouped together.
2. Stood on the shore — Our Lord’s pulpit was a ship; his Church the broad beach; and his congregation the standing multitude. It was an outdoor scene, beautiful for the thought to dwell upon. It may have been a quiet day in autumn, when the husbandman upon the distant hills was seen scattering the seed, from which our Lord drew his discourse.
3. Behold — The animated introduction gives plausibility to the view that our Lord pointed to some distant sower in sight scattering his seed. A sower went forth — The sower is the preacher, the seed is the word of truth, the soil is the receptive attention of the people. Went forth — That is, the preacher does not wait for the people to come to him.
How truly our Lord drew his images from the scenery around him, Dr. Thomson thus illustrates:
“Behold a sower went forth to sow. There is a nice and close adherence to actual life in this form of expression. The expression implies that the sower, in the days of our Saviour, lived in a hamlet, or village, as all these farmers now do; that he did not sow near his own house or in a garden fenced or walled. Now here we have the whole within a dozen rods of us. Our horses are actually trampling down some seeds which have fallen by this wayside, and larks and sparrows are busy picking them up. That man with his mattock is digging up places where the rock is too near the surface for the plough, and much that is sown there will wither away, because it has no deepness of earth. And not a few seeds have fallen among this bellan, and will be effectually choked by these most tangled of thorn bushes. But a large portion after all falls into really good ground, and four months hence will exhibit every variety of crop, up to the richest and heaviest that ever rejoices the heart even of an American farmer.”
Sceptical writers have maintained that the soil of Palestine is so poor as to contradict the character for fertility ascribed to it in the Old Testament. Their error may be shown from the following considerations: 1. No such superiority of soil over other lands of the earth is ascribed to Palestine in Scripture as these objectors imagine. Thus the strongest Scripture phrase, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” is but a picturesque declaration that herds and bees should be an abundant natural product, which is eminently the fact. 2. Every land, even fertile Sicily has its barren spots. 3. Ages of oppression and total neglect have produced barrenness where most luxuriant harvests might have been gathered. With due culture the plains of Esdraelon might be made the granary of the East. 4. The very rocks of Palestine, being of limestone, are easily crumbled, and are thereby made a source of fertility. The hills afford terraces for the vines which under proper culture would cover them. The rich olive flourishes best in this rocky soil.
FIRST PARABLE — The Sower, Matthew 13:3-23.
That this parable of the sower was the first of our Lord’s parables is probable from several reasons. It was so new a mode of instruction that the disciples, in verse tenth, inquired why he used it, and the reason that he gave them was, that truth might be revealed to them and hidden from others.
4. Fell by the wayside — Dropped in the hard path and so lay on the surface, a ready food for birds. “The ordinary roads or paths in the East lead often along the edge of the fields, which are unenclosed. Hence, as the sower scatters his seed, some of it is liable to fall beyond the ploughed portion, on the hard, beaten ground which forms the wayside.” — Prof. Hackett.
Devoured them up — In the old English, the phrase “devoured them up” was intensive and energetic.
5. Stony places — Rocky places. These were not spots infested with numerous stones, but thin layers of soil over a surface of rock. Stanley vividly describes “the long sheets of bare rock laid like flagstones side by side along the soil.” He quotes Keith as saying: “The rounded and rocky hills of Judea swell out in empty, unattractive, and even repulsive barrenness.” Sprung up — There being no chance for a root to penetrate downwards, the sap struck up and produced a sudden but feeble stock. During the rainy season in Palestine this is a rapid process.
7. Some fell among thorns — Briers and brambles in hot countries have a quick and plentiful overgrowth. They crowd and choke every other form of vegetation.
“Every one who has been in Palestine must have been struck with the number of thorny shrubs and plants that abound there. The traveller finds them in his path, go where he may. Many of them are small, but some grow as high as a man’s head. The Rabbinical writers say that there are no less than twenty-two words in the Hebrew Bible denoting thorny and prickly plants. The prevalence of such shrubs, say agriculturists, shows a luxuriant soil. If proper care be not taken they soon get the upper hand, and spread in every direction. ‘I went by the field of the slothful; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof.’ Proverbs 24:30-31.” — Prof. Hackett.
9. Ears to hear — Who hath faculties, let him remember that he is responsible for their use. Whoever has powers of attention, let him now exert them; lessons most important for him to hear will now be presented.
10. Why speakest thou… in parables — It was (evidently from this question) a new form of our Lord’s teaching. Why was it now so plentifully adopted as to furnish seven in a single discourse? Unto them — That is, to the people. This included no doubt the cavillers who had abused his more literal teaching.
11. Given unto you to know the mysteries — Mysteries to others but plain truths to you, because I furnish you the key. The parabolic form veils the truth from them, but unveils the truth to you. See introductory note of the chapter. The kingdom of heaven — It is to be noted that these seven parables all have for their subject the kingdom of God: its planting principles, developments, and final victory.
12. Whosoever hath — That is, hath a willing and receptive disposition and purpose. Shall be given — Namely, the truth which he is willing to receive. Hath not — Hath not the receptivity. That he hath — The disciples had a receptive disposition, and so there was given to them the lesson and its explanation, the parable and its doctrine. The Jewish cavillers had not the receptive willingness, and so even that which they had was taken from them, namely, the opportunity of learning. It was either withheld, or wrapped in unexpressed enigmas. Abuse of privileges justly produces their withdrawment.
It is curiously true of any parable that to him that hath, namely, the key, to him shall be given, namely, the meaning. And the whole Gospel is a parable to him whose heart has not the key.
13. Therefore — In order to take from them that which they have, namely, the means of understanding my doctrines merely to abuse them. In parables — Which will cover from their knowledge truths which will do them no good, but with which they will do harm. Because they seeing see not — Because that when the parable conceals the real meaning they see and hear the narrative, but perceive not the doctrine it embodies.
14. Esaias. (Isaiah 6:9-10.) Is fulfilled — It was a genetic description of character fulfilled equally truly by the Jew of the days of Isaiah, and the Jew of the days of Jesus. By the faculty of hearing ye shall hear the parable, but shall not understand its truth. Shall see the narrative of the parable, but shall not perceive its hidden doctrine.
15. For this people’s heart is waxed gross — The reason is now given why those withholdings of truth are inflicted. The minds of the people had grown too gross to receive it. For instance, had the parable of the mustard seed been explained to the Pharisees as indicating that the Gospel would yet fill the earth, it would only have excited their additional hostility, and hastened their purpose of accusing him as intending to subvert the existing government. As their purpose had become too fixed, and their hearts too hard to enter into the spirit and plan of the kingdom of God, its teachings must remain mysteries to them. Dull of hearing — That is, of hearing what was most deeply essential to their good. Their eyes they have closed — It is they who have done it. Their blindness is wilful. They close their own eyes to the beauty of the Gospel, and therefore its real principles must be kept from them. I should heal them — As I would gladly do, if they would but allow it to be done.
It is the law of God’s spiritual kingdom, that resistance to truth hardens the heart. To brace their minds against the truth and to defend themselves in opposition to it, they arm themselves with countless falsehoods. Their minds thereby get into that state that it benefits them not; nay, even damages and condemns them. It may be then even a mercy to withhold it from them. They may use it to evil purposes, and it may bring them into greater sin. Or they may have so insulted it that they have by their own heinous guilt rendered themselves, like the damned in hell, unworthy of it.
16. Blessed are your eyes — You have loved the teacher and accepted the truth. They see — Your blessed eyes see not only the outside shell of truth, but the inner kernel. They hear — Not only the literal narrative of the parable, but its secret meaning. And that hidden meaning is the very substance of divine wisdom. It reveals the truths of the Messiah’s kingdom of grace on earth and of glory in heaven. It opens the truths of the Old Testament to the mind, and explains the mysteries dimly seen by the ancient prophets.
17. Many prophets and righteous men — The times of the Messiah, his character and kingdom, were all a matter of most profound interest to the Old Testament saints. All these were now being revealed to the humble and obedient apostles of our Lord. the men of old saw them only by faith in types, shadows, and dim intimations; the Jews rejected, but the simple disciples received them in blessed faith.
18. Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower — It was important for the disciples and for us, that the first and some others of the parables should be explained, in order to furnish the key, not only to them but to other parables.
The parable of the sower divides the hearers of the Gospel into four classes. 1. The mere unintelligent hearer, who hears but receives not. 2. The shallow hearer, whose emotions are superficially touched, but whose heart is still hard. 3. The hearer whose heart is fully right, but is at last conquered by outer temptation. 4. The persevering and fruitful receiver of the word. Of the four classes, alas! only one can be saved.
19. Heareth… and understandeth it not — So the Jewish outsider heard the parable, but it was a mere tale to him. He penetrated not the interior meaning and power. And it is wonderful how little the careless hearer of the Gospel in a Christian land, who attends church, as a form, from Sabbath to Sabbath, really understands the Gospel. When he afterwards becomes convicted of sin, the simplest truths have to be repeated and explained, which he has heard with his ear a hundred times. The truth has indeed fallen upon his ear like seed on the solid surface of a beaten path; it has lain ready for the devil to carry off and leave not a trace behind.
20. Stony places — Rocky surfaces covered with thin soil. There is many a soul with a surface soft and yielding, but a nature truly hard at bottom. In such the shallow emotions are quickly stirred, but their deeper nature remains untouched. The Jews were full of a joyous excitement at John’s first preaching the Messiah. But it was a superficial arousement; the heart was not truly converted. When the Messiah’s true nature was disclosed, they soon showed that the subsoil was unchanged rock. Such prove apparent apostates; but they are not really such. They never had the reality to apostatize from.
21. Not root… dureth for a while — His religion is without root, and so is only the surface-stirring of natural emotions. When the momentary cause or occasion disappears, he loses both the feeling and the appearance. So the convert who, in a revival, acts upon mere outside excitement, is among the first to be missing when the special movement is past. Tribulation or persecution — If a superficial professor does not drop off from mere cessation of excitement, a little trouble, a little opposition or contempt of the world, brushes him off. There may be much lukewarmness and much inconsistency in the Church, but perhaps less permanent hypocrisy than many suppose. Offended — Ensnared and led into evil.
22. Among thorns — This is a sad case. The seed is good, the soil is good, the growth is genuine, internally everything is right. But while all is going well within, there are difficulties without, which in time prove fatal. What are those enemies to salvation without? They are the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Adversities and prosperities may both be enemies to our soul. Some become soured by trouble, and their time is so engrossed, that they have no heart, no room for the service of God. Others become wealthy and proud; too fine and too fashionable to be pious. Becometh unfruitful — There once was fruit. But, alas! fruit and blossom, leaf and stock become choked and disappear. This is genuine apostacy. It is the loss of real life and fruitfulness once existing. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall; and let no false theology induce him to think most presumptously, “once in grace always in grace.”
23. Received… heareth… understandeth… beareth fruit — Here is the believer, the fruit bearer, the perseverer. Good ground — But is the ground of any human heart good antecedent to regeneration? Some say not; and on this ground some creeds affirm that regeneration must even precede justifying or saving faith. But certainly no man is regenerated, that is, born again, unless he is first forgiven. To be born again is to be made a child of God; and to be a child of God is impossible until after a man is forgiven. That is, regeneration is consequent upon forgiveness or justification.
And yet it is true that the ground of the human heart is never spiritually good by nature. It may be good in the sense that, having voluntarily complied with the influence of the Holy Spirit it has become ready to receive the offered word, and so is relatively good. That Spirit precedes the word and prepares the consenting heart. The good soil, therefore, for receiving the word may be called a sort of amalgam, or uniting of the Holy Spirit and the consenting will. When these combine, the word may be fully received and accepted; the man yields his full faith, and pardon, justification, regeneration, sanctification, fruit-bearing, and, upon perseverance, eternal life ensue. Happy are those eyes and those ears and those hearts that receive all this.
Hundredfold — The soil of Palestine could produce at this rate, but not ordinarily. To produce a hundred from one is a rich increase; but how rich the increase of every Christian who converts a hundred sinners!
24. The kingdom of heaven — The system of human probation or the divine government. Likened unto a man — Not likened to the man alone, but to this whole parabolic transaction which begins with the man. The man represents the Divine Ruler of the universe. Sowed good seed — This properly goes back to the period of the Creation, when God planted man pure upon the field of the world.
SECOND PARABLE — The Wheat and Tares, Matthew 13:24-30.
This parable explains the entire structure of the system of probation under the Christian dispensation, or perhaps through all time. As the former parable describes the planting of the dispensation, so this describes its struggle with evil in the world until the judgment day. It is not so much a parable of the Church as of the world and the Church under the Messiah; for the field is the world. While probation lasts, wickedness is permitted to develop itself. There is to be no organic destruction of wicked men by God or angels; there must be no persecuting them to destruction by the servants of God; they must be allowed to live and work their destiny. Nor will they be forcibly changed or irresistibly regenerated in their nature.
To do either of these things would violate the very fundamental principles of probation. But at the end of the world the final separation of good and evil will take place, by the command of Christ, and the execution thereof by angels. The parable is therefore a brief, simple moral history of the world.
25. While men slept — While the providence of God and human affairs were going quietly on, his enemy, the devil, sowed tares. The devil is here said to sow wicked men, just as the wicked are called children of the devil, not because he creates or procreates them, but because their moral nature as sinners was brought about by his agency. As men, God is their father; as sinners, they are the children of the devil.
“The tare abounds all over the East, and is a great nuisance to the farmer. It resembles the American cheat, but the head does not droop like cheat, nor does it branch out like oats. The grain, also, is smaller, and is arranged along the upper part of the stalk, which stands perfectly erect. The taste is bitter, and when eaten separately, or even when diffused in ordinary bread, it causes dizziness, and often acts as a violent emetic. Barn-door fowls also become dizzy from eating it. In short, it is a strong soporific poison, and must be carefully winnowed, and picked out of the wheat, grain by grain, before grinding, or the flour is not healthy.” — Dr. Thomson.
27. Servants of the householder — Some understand by the servants here the ministers and guardians of the Church. But the field is not the Church, but the world, or the divine government or kingdom. These servants do not stand for any class of persons. But the false notion that the wicked should be destroyed from the earth is introduced by simply putting it dramatically into the mouths of the servants of the householder. That the servants do not represent any particular class of persons is shown by the fact that they are unmentioned in our Lord’s explanation of the parable which follows.
28. Wilt thou… we go and gather them up — Ought not the wicked to be destroyed from the face of the earth? Why are they permitted to exist?
Does it not almost make atheists of us to see how God permits them to live and prosper? No; for the permission is for them to live to develope; and so God will not eradicate them out of the earth, and good men must not expect to be able to persecute them to destruction.
Eastern farmers maintain that tares are degenerate wheat, affirming that a field is frequently sown with wheat and the seed comes up tares. Dr. Thomson explains this singular fact thus:
“I suppose that several separate causes conspire to bring about the result. First, very wet weather in winter drowns and kills wheat, while it is the most favourable of all weather for tares. In a good season the wheat overgrows and chokes the tares, but in a wet one the reverse is true. The farmers all admit this, but still they ask, Whence the seed of the tares? we sowed ‘good seed.’ To this it may be answered: The tare is a very light grain, easily blown about by the wind; that a thousand little birds are ever carrying and dropping it over the fields; that myriads of ants are dragging it in all directions; that moles, and mice, and goats, and sheep, and nearly every other animal, are aiding in this work of dispersion; that much of the tares shell out in handling the grain in the field; that a large part of them is thrown out by the wind at the threshing-floor, which is always in the open country; that the heavy rains, which often deluge the country in autumn, carry down to the lower levels this outcast zowan (tares) and sow them there; and these are precisely the spots where the transmutation is said to occur. It is my belief that in these and in similar ways the tares are actually sown, without the intervention of an enemy, and their presence is accounted for without having recourse to this incredible doctrine of transmutation.”
Root up also the wheat — Commentators sometimes understand by this that we are forbidden to persecute heretics in the Church, for we may be mistaken in men’s characters and put innocent men to death. Now, first, this is a poor reason against persecution. Second, it is not the Church but the world which is symbolized by the field. Third, by this mode of interpretation the servants are both men and a part of the wheat at the same moment. And, fourth, the reason supposed is not the reason expressed in the text. The reason in the text is not that they might mistake wheat for tares, and so pull it up. It is that, in the violence of the work, both would be pulled up, and the field be destroyed. The destruction of probationary sinners would be the destruction of the probationary system.
It is no doubt true that the tares when first springing up strongly resemble the wheat, so as to be easily mistaken for it; but not after a little growth. Dr. Thomson expresses the real point, when he says: “Very commonly the roots of the two are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them without plucking up both. Both, therefore, must be left to grow together until the time of harvest.”
30. Let both grow together until the harvest — Let the probationary state remain until the judgment day. Then shall the final separation of the good and the evil take place. The evil shall be sent to hell, and the righteous to heaven. Gather ye… first the tares… gather the wheat — Upon the same gathering both tares and wheat are sent each to their own place. We remark here:
1. We have here a very clear contradiction of the millenarian theory that there are two resurrections, one of the righteous, another of the wicked, a thousand years apart.
2. We have also a very express condemnation of the doctrine that God will first destroy the wicked, and allow the saints to reign on earth a thousand years before the final judgment. The wicked and the righteous will both continue undestroyed during the time of probation. This belongs to the very nature of the probation.
3. Nor does this parable contradict the doctrine that men will be generally converted for ages before the judgment. It is destruction, not conversion, that the parable intends to deny. Men will be permitted to be wicked even in the millennium. They will be of the same depraved nature as now. Only the main mass will be saints by conversion and sanctification.
4. Let us from this parable understand the divine government, and never wonder at the sparing or even the prosperity of the wicked.
This is the season of probation, but the day of judgment will show a different state of things. Verily there is a just God over all.
THIRD PARABLE — The Mustard Seed, Matthew 13:31-32.
31. Another parable — The parable of the mustard seed is a sort of supplement to the parable of the tares and wheat. It supplies what that had omitted, namely, the fact that while the wicked would not be destroyed, yet the kingdom of God should be progressive and triumphant on the earth. Though there should be no millennium by the destruction of the wicked, yet there may be one by the growth of the cause of righteousness. The kingdom of heaven is in this parable, as in the last, the divine administration, and the field is again the world. The Church is here not the wheat, but the mustard seed, sown by the same divine hand as the wheat. If it was discouraging to the disciples to learn that the wicked would not be destroyed, yet it was cheering to know that righteousness, however small its beginning, would triumph on the earth.
Like to a grain of mustard seed — The plant here spoken of was probably the “Khardal” or Turkish mustard, (botanically the Salvadora Persica,) which from a very small seed grows to a tree with a wooden fibre, and to such a size that it can be climbed by a man; and so it truly becometh a tree. It produces numerous branches and leaves, among which birds may and do take shelter, and build their nests. Such is the statement of Dr. Royle, Art. Sinapi, Kitto’s Encyc. Prof. Hackett, after long and doubtful search, found on the plains of Akka, on the way to Carmel, a little forest of mustard trees which he thus interestingly describes: “It was then in blossom, full grown, in some cases six, seven, and nine feet high, with a stem or trunk an inch or more in thickness, throwing out branches on every side. I was now satisfied in part. I felt that such a plant might well be called a tree, and, in comparison with the seed producing it, a great tree. But still the branches, or stems of the branches, were not very large, or, apparently, very strong. Can the birds, I said to myself, rest upon them? Are they not too slight and flexible? Will they not bend or break beneath the superadded weight? At that very instant, as I stood and revolved the thought, lo! one of the fowls of heaven stopped in its flight through the air, alighted down on one of the branches, which hardly moved beneath the shock, and then began, perched there before my eyes, to warble forth a strain of the richest music. All my doubts were now charmed away. I was delighted at the incident. It seemed to me at the moment as if I enjoyed enough to repay me for all the trouble of the whole journey.”
32. Least of all seeds — The point of the parable is to exhibit the contrast between the smallness of the Gospel beginnings and the greatness of the result. The mustard was the least of seeds that produced the genuine tree. Greatest among herbs — Though a tree in size, it was a herb by proper classification. Birds of the air — This is added to complete the image of a goodly tree; but it is also a sweet illustration of the character of the Church, as a refuge and a protection for the souls that resort to her shadow. See Ezekiel 17:23 : “Under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing.”
This parabolic image of the growth of the kingdom of Christ is beautifully parallel to many passages in the Old Testament, where the rise and expansion of kingdoms are compared to the growth of a stately tree. (Daniel 4:10-12; Ezekiel 31:3-9.) It is also strongly accordant with the image in Daniel 2:34-35, of the kingdom of God, which at first was a small stone, but finally became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. And this last image describes the growth of the kingdom, as being completely universal, more explicitly even than our Lord’s simile here of the mustard spreading its branches.
FOURTH PARABLE. — The Leaven in the Meal, Matthew 13:33.
33. The kingdom of heaven — The divine dispensation of the Gospel. In this parable the woman is the symbol of the divine agency, the meal is the human heart, the leaven is the Gospel. As leaven diffuses itself through the meal until the whole lump is leavened, so the grace of God and the power of the Gospel are a diffusive power, which impregnates the whole heart and transforms its character. As the parable of the mustard tree describes the external, so this parable describes the internal prevalence of the Gospel power. It describes the internal influence not upon the individual alone, but upon the masses of humanity. Three measures of meal — A measure was the third part of an ephah, and these three were the usual quantity for a baking. Genesis 18:6; Judges 6:19; 1 Samuel 1:24. Whole was leavened — The grace of God in the heart, when properly received and cultivated, assimilates the whole character to its blessed nature.
34. All these things — All these principles or truths. Without a parable spake he not — There was no principle introduced which he did not illustrate by this newly commenced form of teaching.
35. Might be fulfilled… by the prophet — Psalms 78. That psalm is ascribed to Asaph, but the sentiment here expressed was fulfilled or exemplified by this mode of our Lord’s teachings. Kept secret — Or unrevealed by God. From the foundation of the world — That is, from the commencement of the creation, or the beginning of sublunary time.
36. Went into the house — After dismissing his sea shore congregation he returned to his usual residence in Capernaum. Declare — Explain or solve. Thus was it given to the disciples to know these mysteries of the planting, the development, the growth, the prevalence, and the final issue of the Gospel kingdom. The unbelieving opponents of our Lord would have reviled, denied, perverted, and abused this; and so, being unfit to receive them, these saving mysteries were forever hidden from their eyes. Thus were these things most justly hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. And this was not because God had arbitrarily excluded them from salvation, but because they do most freely exclude themselves. They all might, like the disciples, have received the truth and been redeemed by the blessed Saviour.
SOLUTION OF THE PARABLE OF THE TARES AND THE WHEAT, Matthew 13:37-43.
37. He that soweth… the Son of man — The sower is the redeemer the field is not the Church, but the world; the good seed are the Christians; the tares are the wicked, their sower is Satan. At the end of the world the angels shall gather out the harvest of wicked men to cast them into the blaze of retribution.
40. End of this world — The end of probationary time. While that lasts the good and evil mingle together. Then comes the world of retribution, in which the good and evil are parted into separate states of reward.
41. All things that offend — All evil things and all that seduce to evil.
Them which do iniquity — Evil persons.
42. Furnace of fire — Fire is the most usual form under which penal retribution is described in the New Testament. The fires of the valley of Hinnom were to the Jews the emblem of future, penalty. Hence the burning flame is the ordinary symbol of hell. And if there be not in the world of retribution a real material fire, yet what fire is to the body that the element of hell will doubtless be to the soul and to the immortal resurrection body.
43. Righteous… as the sun — A most resplendent image of the glorified saints in heaven. The Greek verb is very expressive — shine out — as if during their sojourn in this world they were obscured by a cloud. Heaven is the firmament in which every luminary is a sun.
FIFTH PARABLE. — The Hid Treasure, Matthew 13:44.
44. Again — The following three parables were not spoken, like the previous ones, to the multitude by the sea side, but privately to the disciples in the house. They mainly illustrate the same subject, and affirm the same views as the previous parables. The kingdom of God, as bringing an invaluable Gospel, and as implying a time of probation, is set forth in brief similes. Treasure hid in a field — Divine truth is a treasure from its value; it is hid because men’s eyes are apt to be morally blind to its reality. But the true seeker of it is ready to give everything for it. And as the former parables were delivered to the multitudes, and then explained to the disciples alone, there may be an allusion to the fact that the deeper instructions of Christ are reserved from the incapable multitude and delivered to his disciples.
“It is not difficult to account for this hid treasure. This country has always been subject to revolutions, invasions, and calamities of various kinds, and hence a feeling of insecurity hovers over the land like a dismal spectre. The government robs, and so do the nobility and clergy; Arabs rush in from the desert and plunder; warriors and conquerors from every part of the world sweep over the land, carrying everything away that falls into their hands. Then there are and always have been intestine commotions and wars, such as laid Lebanon in ruins in 1841, and again in 1845. At such times multitudes bury their gold and jewels, and in many cases the owner is killed, and no one knows where the treasure was concealed. Then again this country has ever been subject to earthquakes, which bury everything beneath her ruined cities. On the first day of 1837, Safed was thus dashed to the ground in a moment, house upon house down the steep mountain side, and many entire families were cut off. Some were known to have money, and it was a shocking spectacle to see hardened wretches prowling about under the ruins, amid putrifying carcasses, in search of these treasures.” — Dr. Thomson.
It is thus because the state of society is insecure, and no safe public depositories exist, that money is often hid by the owner in the earth. By the Jewish law, and partly by Roman law, the owner of the ground was owner of its concealed treasure. In the parable the finder uses his knowledge of the fact to guide himself in the bargain, as men use professional knowledge for their own profit. He pays the owner all the field is worth to his ignorance. Was the purchaser bound or not to inform the owner of the fact of the concealed treasure?
The finder purchases not the treasure alone, but the field that holds the treasure. So good men embrace not naked truth alone, but the Bible and the Church, which possess that truth. He who loves religion loves the unity, peace, and prosperity of the Church of God, with her blessed Gospel, her divine law, and her sanctifying ordinances.
The following incident from Dr. Thomson forcibly illustrates this parable: “About three years ago some workmen, digging over the ground of this garden on our left, found several copper pots, which contained a large quantity of ancient gold coin. The poor fellows concealed the discovery with the greatest care; but they were wild with excitement, and besides, there were too many of them to keep such a secret. The governor of the city heard of it, apprehended all who had not fled, and compelled them to disgorge. He recovered two of the pots, placed them beside him, and required them to refill them with coin. In this way he obtained between two and three thousand; but it is certain that there remain hundreds, if not thousands, which he could not get. The French consul told me that the whole number was over eight thousand. They are all coins of Alexander and his father Philip, of the most pure gold, each one worth a little more than an English sovereign. As there is no mixture of coins later than Alexander, the deposit must have been made during his reign, or immediately after. I suspect it was royal treasure, which one of Alexander’s officers concealed when he heard of his unexpected death in Babylon, intending to appropriate it to himself; but being apprehended, slain, or driven away by some of the revolutions which followed that event, the coin remained where he had hid it.”
45. A merchantman seeking goodly pearls — The Oriental profession of the travelling jeweller still exists. He deals in precious stones and pearls. He may find one which, if bought with all his present stock, may make his fortune by being sold at an exorbitant price to some extravagant prince for a crown jewel.
The pearl is selected as a beautiful image of divine truth. It strikes the eye of the beholder with admiration for its loveliness and value. The pearl is a white, hard, smooth, shining piece of substance, usually rather globular, found in a shell fish of the oyster kind. Its shell is called mother of pearl. The pearl is found in the Persian seas, and in many parts of the ocean which washes the shores of Arabia, and the continent and isles of Asia. It is brought up from the marine depths by professional divers. Pearls are of different sizes and colours. Some have been found more than an inch in length, the larger ones approaching the figure of a pear. They are valued according to their size, their roundness, and their purity or lustre. The Orientals have been more attracted by the beauty of the pearl even than the brilliancy of the diamond. A string of the largest pearls, both in extreme antiquity and at the present day, is an indispensable part of the decoration of an Eastern monarch. References to the pearl occur in different parts of the Scripture. Matthew 7:6; 1 Timothy 2:9; Revelation 17:4. In Revelation 21:21, the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem were “twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl.”
Seeking goodly pearls — There are large masses of mankind who are like the swine, to whose taste the goodly pearl is not to be compared with their husks. This man is one whom husks will not satisfy; he looks for pearls.
SIXTH PARABLE. — The Goodly Pearl, Matthew 13:45-46.
As the former parable illustrates the hidden character of divine truth, so this illustrates its unsurpassed beauty and value. The pearl is the Gospel. The merchant is the true inquirer. As for that pearl he gives all he has, so the Gospel has that excellence that we wisely surrender all to obtain it.
46. Sold all — For if religion be worth anything, it is worth everything. If it require a man on conversion to make restitution of thousands of dollars, he obtains salvation cheaply. Bought it — The grace of God is not indeed bought with money. The faith of the heart is what alone procures it. But when that faith is in the heart, the heart delights to give for the Gospel To obtain that faith often requires large sacrifices, especially of the fruits and enjoyments of sin. These sacrifices the man who knows the value of the goodly pearl will joyfully make.
47. Net — The drag net, which sweeps the bottom of the fish pool. It is extended far into the sea, corked at the upper edge and loaded at the bottom, so as to intercept the fishes at the entire depth. The ends are then brought together so as to encompass them, and the whole are drawn in. Every kind — Men of every rank, class, nation, and colour obtain places in the comprehension of the Gospel.
SEVENTH PARABLE — The Fish Net, 47-49.
The net is the Gospel dispensation. The fish are the members of the Church; the fishermen are the divine agencies. The good fish are the true; the bad, the false professors of Christianity.
48. Full — When the work of the Church on earth is completed, the Church, like a net of fishes, is drawn to the presence of its Lord, and the reckoning takes place. It will then be seen that in the apparent or visible Church, consisting of all professors, there is a real or invisible Church, consisting of all who are truly regenerate. The Church while on earth perpetually struggles to be pure; but, in her imperfect and militant state, a part of her trial is the existence of false professors whom she is unable to purify or to expel. Bad — The unpalatable or refuse part.
49. End of the world The judgment is the end of the world. It is the close of the mixed condition of things where good men and bad exist together in a state of trial. Each class undergoes the divine scrutiny and goes to his own place.
Angels — The angels seem to be represented by the fisherman, who both casts the Gospel net and separates the fish when drawn ashore. The fishermen, therefore, represent the messengers of God, human or superhuman; that is, his ministers on earth, and his angels at judgment. These are indeed the angels of the Church below and the Church above.
Sever the wicked from among the just — Terrible and yet glorious day! The Church shall then become pure. The kingdom of heaven will then become heaven itself. The kingdom of grace shall have closed, and the kingdom of glory shall have begun, never to close.
51. Jesus saith — The master has wisely taught his pupils, and wisely he now ascertains how well they have learned. A parable, unless its solution be understood, is but a petty story. Understood — Understood not merely the narrative as a tale, but its second and deeper meaning. Yea, Lord — They said they did, and they believed they did, and no doubt they did dimly understand him. But these parables foretold the destinies of the kingdom of God through coming ages, and dimly do we even yet comprehend the future, however well predicted.
52. A householder — A master of a family. Bringeth forth — As a provider for the family. The most suitable emblem of the Christian scribe or minister, who provides food for his spiritual family, the Church. Treasure — His store, cellar, or granary. Things — Provisions. New and old — The products of both the old year and the new. So the minister should be able to repeat and reimpress the good old truths, which the people have heard a thousand times, varied with truths they never heard before. And the same truth may be both old and new; old, because often heard; but new, from the fresh form or colouring with which it is invested, or the new evidence or impressiveness with which it is received by the mind.
There is a natural and sort of historical advancement in the seven parables. First. The sower commences, as it were, the Church, by sowing his seed among the various moral classes of our race. Second. The struggle between good and evil, to be permanent to the final separation. Third. The moral triumph of the good, even in this state of mixture and struggle. Fourth. The parallel progress and triumph of good in the individual heart. Fifth. The value of the Gospel treasure, even in its obscured and hidden state. Sixth. The worthiness of the Gospel pearl above all price. Seventh. The final deliverance of the true Church from impure membership.
§ 55. — JESUS REVISITS NAZARETH AND IS AGAIN REJECTED THERE, Matthew 13:53-58.
53. Had finished these parables — Being SEVEN in number; FOUR to the people at the sea side, and THREE to the disciples at his own residence, all illustrating the principles of the divine probationary kingdom or government of God. He departed thence — He left Capernaum.
54. Into his own country — To Nazareth, the home of his childhood; in distinction from Capernaum, the residence of his manhood.
55. Is not this the carpenter’s son? — Most conclusive question! It is probable that many of them had seen our Saviour, in his youth, labouring at the occupation of his father. Thus had he honoured and sanctified the labourer’s calling, and shown that the secular duties rightly performed are a true service and acceptable to God. And if Christianity shows our Saviour as a carpenter, and his apostles as fishermen, how ought they to be ashamed of their mean pride who scorn the useful avocations of the labourer! Well would it be for society if there were less of extravagance and effeminate pride, and if Christians would adopt the maxim of the ancient Jews, that every man, however high his rank or intellectual his profession, should learn the mastery of some manual trade.
And his brethren — In regard to the brothers of our Lord, and the supposed perpetual virginity of the blessed mother, we may make the following remarks:
1. The supposed perpetuity is contradicted by the obvious, though not the necessary meaning of Matthew 1:25. See note on the passage. 2. It is plain that while there were three if not four cousins of our Lord in the number of his disciples, his brothers remained at Nazareth, not even believing upon him. 3. When his mother and brothers came from Nazareth, (Matthew 12:46-50) probably to induce him to retire from his ministry, his brothers and his cousins must have belonged to different parties. 4. Alford says that the phrase “brethren of the Lord” occurs ten times in the New Testament, and they are never called cousins. It is incredible, therefore, that they should have been other than literal brothers. 5. This presumption is increased by the fact that these brothers are mentioned in connection and in company with his sisters and his mother, all of whom collectively are called his “house” or family. If the mother was a literal mother, the sisters must have been literal sisters, and the brethren literal brothers. 6. Our Lord speaks of his house or family as a place wherein, as a prophet, he has no honour. But if this house consisted of cousins, and three or four of these cousins were his own disciples, who in addition to his mother believed upon him, how was he unhonoured in his own house?
Against this mass of reasoning there are two counter-arguments which admit of easy replies: 1. It appears that the cousins of Jesus, the sons of Mary, sister of the blessed mother, were named James, Joses, and Jude. It appears also that the brothers of Jesus were also named James, Joses, Jude, and Simon. Hence it is inferred that they were the same, and that the so-called brothers were only cousins. But we reply, although it may be singular that three or four couples of cousins should bear the same names, it was by no means improbable. It is quite credible that two sisters, themselves of the same name, should purposely give correspondent names to three of their children. 2. The second counter-argument is derived from the fact that our Lord committed the keeping of his mother not to these brethren, but to the apostle John. How could he thus prefer an unrelated friend above a brother? For the same reason, we reply, that he could choose disciples from strangers rather than from his own house. He did not choose his beloved disciple from among his cousins who were his disciples. His brothers of his own house did not believe, did not honour him. He dealt in sharp words with them. John 7:7. They were not found among his believers until after the resurrection. It cannot be wonderful then that these brethren should be set aside in comparison with the beloved disciple.
Upon the whole, we think it a clear case that the brethren of our Lord, so-called, were not cousins, but literal half brothers. The idea, therefore, that Mary was at once a wife and a nun, is an ecclesiastical tradition unsupported by Scripture, and is the offspring of the false notion of the superior sanctity of celibacy.
57. Offended in him — They were stumbled at this apparent superiority in one they would have to be no better than themselves. A stupid pride blinded their hearts.
58. Did not many… works — It would be a waste of divine power to perform miracles that would be disregarded and condemned by anticipation. Besides, it is probable that they abstained from affording him any opportunity for performing miracles of power and mercy, such as alone lay within the bounds of our Lord’s mission. So that both morally and physically they rendered the performance of mighty works a thing out of the question. The evangelist Mark says strongly, “he could there do no mighty work;” because of course he could not do a useless and unsuitable deed. So man’s faithlessness may bind the Lord’s arm from performing miracles of mercy. A faithless Church restrains the convicting and converting Spirit. Unbelief defeats omnipotence. The same evangelist, Mark, vividly represents the woman with the issue of blood drawing the miraculous virtue forth from Jesus by the touch of her finger, put forth in faith. So that as faith divinely compels the virtue forth, so unbelief compels the virtue back into the Lord’s person.
Sunday, February 26th, 2017
Transfiguration Sunday / the Last Sunday after Epiphany
Search This Commentary