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The Parable of the Sower
In regard to the figure here. None not leaven with its assimilating power, nor light with its illuminating rays, nor bread with its nutritious elements, nor water as it springs sparkling from a mossy fountain to parched and thirsty lips none sets forth the Word of God better than this of seed. For example:
I. There is Life in Seed. Dry and dead as it seems, let a seed be planted with a stone flashing diamond, or burning ruby; and while that in the richest soil remains a stone, this awakes and, bursting its husky shell, rises from the ground to adorn the earth with beauty, perfume the air with fragrance, or enrich men with its fruit. Such life there is in all, but especially in Gospel truth.
II. There is Force in Seed. Buried in the ground a seed does not remain inert lie there in a living tomb. It forces its way upward, and with a power quite remarkable in a soft, green, feeble blade, pushes aside the dull clods that cover it. Wafted by winds or dropped by passing bird into the fissure of a crag, from weak beginnings, the acorn grows into an oak glowing till by the forth-putting of a silent but continuous force, it heaves the stony table from its bed, rending the rock in pieces. But what so worthy to be called the power as well as the wisdom of God as that Word which, lodged in the mind, and accompanied by the Divine blessing, fed by showers from heaven, rends hearts, harder than the rocks, in pieces?
III. There is a Power of Propagation in Seed. Thus a single grain of corn would, were the produce of each season sown again, so spread from field to field, from country to country, from continent to continent, as in the course of a few years to cover the whole surface of the earth with one wide harvest employing all the sickles, filling all the barns, and feeding all the mouths in the world. Such an event, indeed, could not happen in nature, because each latitude has its own productions, and there is no plant formed to grow alike under the sun of Africa and amid the snows of Greenland. It is the glory of the Gospel, and one of the evidences of its Divine origin that it can: and, unless prophecy fail, that it shall. There is not a shore which shall not be sown with this seed; not a land but shall yield harvests of glory to God and of souls for heaven. Thomas Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 222.
Is Christianity a Failure?
I. One day there came to Christ those who asked the question: 'Are there many that be saved?' What a field here for an interesting discussion! But He sent them back with the warning: 'Strive ye to enter in at the strait gate'. And so sometimes, when in a broad and interesting fashion we would treat great questions in a somewhat detached and impartial manner, He often sends men back to the more commonplace task of examining their own hearts and their own lives. We can quite imagine that when such a question as 'Is Christianity a failure? 'is put up for discussion, He would rather that each one of us put the question to himself in a somewhat more personal fashion, namely, 'Am I a failure?'
II. It is that question which the parable of the sower partly answers. Our Lord, indeed, in this parable admits that Christianity is a failure again and again; failure on the hard ground, failure on the shallow ground, failure on the unclean ground, failure, as it would seem, everywhere. But He bids men remember that the cause of the failure lies not in the seed, but in the soil; not in the Word, but in the hearts of men.
III. We see as we read this parable that it is assumed from the very beginning that there is in man, at least in certain limits, a power of free will; that there is in every heart some capacity for reception, and the great central lesson and meaning of the parable is simply this, that it is in the cooperation of the seed and the soil, of the grace of God and the will of man, that there lie all the possibilities of that harvest which in the individual is character and in society the kingdom of God.
The whole programme of life may really be summed up in a single sentence:
Our wills are ours, we know not how,
Our wills are ours to make them Thine.
H. R. Gamble, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 218.
References. XIII. 3. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 147. H. Scott Holland, God's City, p. 121; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii. 1892, p. 141. Henry Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 120. E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 76. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2842. XIII. 3-5. R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, pp. 108-51. XIII. 3-9. The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 17. G. Salmon, Non-Miraculous Christianity, p. 196. XIII. 3-8, 18-23. Cosmo Gordon Lang, Thoughts on Some of The Parables of Jesus, p. 13. XIII. 3-9, 18-23. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 1.
There is a kind of soil which is content to remain hard and barren. The verse gives a picture of many men and women who have no spiritual receptiveness. They do not understand the language of the Psalmist: 'Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God'. This kind of nature is to be found in many different places, and among many kinds of men.
I. Hard circumstances often make men unresponsive to any spiritual ideal to the higher nature. We know very well with some circumstances need not be, and sometimes are not, in themselves a fatal drawback. Some men can resist all the evil influences of environment. There were saints in Cæsar's household, and we have seen that in the dullest and dreariest slums some wear the white flower of a blameless life. But of men in the mass it is true that the outward conditions of life must tell upon the spiritual state. Here social reform has its part to play. The only hope for the hard soil is that it should be broken up, and this is what wise social reform can do. It cannot make men Christians or give them spiritual life, but it can prepare the soil for the seed. 'Take away the stone,' said our Lord to His disciples, ere He summoned Lazarus to come forth. The one act can be done by the disciples, the other only by the Lord Himself.
II. There are those who are influenced strangely by heredity to an indifference to spiritual things. These are not the victims of untoward circumstances. Often they lead the pleasantest lives, and live in the pleasantest places, but religion comes to them without appeal. They do not understand it, and they do not want it. What are we to do for them? We can only wait for the discipline of life and the training of love to break up the hardened soil. Love and sorrow are the chief openers of the heart which enable the Divine Grace to enter in.
III. We must not forget that men often harden themselves. They neglect opportunities and refuse light. And so we find the obdurate conscience which once was soft; the hard heart which once was tender. All this is the story of neglected grace and of rejected light. The old judgment is uttered: 'Take the talent from him'. As we think of this possibility coming so near us all, the hardening that arises from neglected opportunities, there are two passages which occur to our minds: 'Take heed how ye hear,' and 'Today, if ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts'.
H. R. Gamble, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 218, 13 March, 1908.
References. XIII. 4, 5, 6, 18. J. Sidmouth Cooper, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 152. XIII. 5, 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2844. XIII. 6. F. E. Paget, The Spirit of Discipline, p. 142. XIII. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons vol. xxxiv. No. 2040.
Our Lord describes for us here the characteristics of good soil. He tells us what sort of man he is who profits by the Sunday sermon, and he tells us first of all that the right hearer has an honest and good heart.
I. An honest and good heart means that kind of heart in which there is some affinity to the message received, a correspondence which we sometimes take for granted. It may well be that the soil of our heart has ceased to become honest and good because we have not kept it informed or receptive or interested in the highest things which form the object matter of our intelligence. It is a matter of supreme indifference to many men whether the Creed be maintained in its integrity or not. The Atonement is a doctrine in which they have no practical interest, and never even attempt to understand. The Incarnation is a truth which they cannot imagine to be worth all the disputations which surge round it. Heaven and the joys of Paradise may be all very well for those who like them, but for themselves they would much rather stay where they are. It is no satisfaction to them to be told about Christian holiness; the ways of society and the ordinary code are quite sufficient. The ways and doings of Scriptural characters awake in them no responsive interest whatsoever. If religion is a department of human learning which we can take up as an extra subject or let alone, well and good; but if religion is a question which concerns our well-being here and our eternal salvation hereafter, it is nothing short of a disaster to have reached a state where religion and religious things fail to awake even a languid interest. It is not a good sign if sermon subjects fail to interest us. Ask God to give you an interest in these topics, which are the most serious that can occupy a man's heart.
II. But the man with an honest and good heart is more than receptive; he is retentive. Having heard the Word he keeps it. This is the trouble: how to keep what is heard in face of the birds, and the pressure of the rock, under the adverse growth of thorns which spoil the results. It is impossible for the message to stick if we have no place for it in our hearts, if we are not in a condition to be either instructed or advised. If we only set ourselves to practise what we have heard, if only we would act on the advice we receive, or carry out some of the things we know, what different men and women we should be!
III. 'Fruit with patience.' It is the unchanging Gospel which needs patience. So also does the hearer, too, need patience in the presence of forgotten truth, now perhaps for the first time revealed to him. It is a good thing for us to hear from time to time all the counsel of God set before us, and to learn patiently to investigate the claims made upon our faith and understanding.
Take heed how ye hear. The responsibility of the preacher is, as it must always be, immense, but there is a responsibility which rests with the hearer to offer that honest and good heart, to retain and develop with patience the seed which is to bear fruit unto everlasting life.
References. XIII. 8, 9. Canon Newbolt, Church Times, vol. 1. 1903, p. 285. XIII. 9. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 211. XIII. 10. J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 22. XIII. 10, 11. S. D. McConnell, A Year's Sermons, p. 217. XIII. 10-13. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pupit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 161. XIII. 10-17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2304. XIII. 11, 12. T. Chalmers, Sermons Preached in the Tron Church, Glasgow, p. 84. XIII. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1488. J. Service, Sermons, p. 159. P. Young, Plain Preaching to Poor People (7th Series), p. 107. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 220. XIII. 13. Ibid. p. 230. XIII. 14. J. H. Thorn, A Spiritual Faith, p. 35.
In our own generation, and our own land, are many pariahs, sitting amongst us all, nay, oftentimes sitting (yet not recognized for what they are) at good men's tables. How general is that sensuous dullness, that deafness of the heart, which the Scriptures attribute to human beings! 'Having ears, they hear not; and seeing they do not understand.' In the very act of facing or touching a dreadful object, they will deny its existence. Men say to me daily, when I ask them, in passing, 'Anything in this morning's paper?' 'Oh no, nothing at all.' And, as I never had any other answer, I am bound to suppose that... every day was a blank day, yielding absolutely nothing what children call a deaf nut, offering no kernel; and yet the total product has caused angels to weep and tremble.
The service of philosophy and of religion and culture as well, to the human spirit, is to startle it into a sharp and eager observation.
References. XIII. 14, 15. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 62. XIII. 15-23. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 157. XIII. 18-23. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 65.
'After this,' George Fox writes in his Journal for 1650, 'I was moved to go into Derbyshire, where the mighty power of God was among Friends. And I went to Chesterfield, where one Britland was priest. He saw beyond the common sort of priest, for he had been partly convinced, and had spoken much on behalf of Truth, before he was priest there; but when the priest of that town died, he got the parsonage, and choked himself with it.'
References. XIII. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2040. XIII. 24, 25. W. Lee, University Sermons, p. 34. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. i. p. 120. XIII. 24-30. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 234. G. Monks, Pastor in Ecclesia, p. 252. W. Arnot, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 75. R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 86. R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 122. H. Calderwood, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 199. Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. p. 470. A. F. Barfield, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v. p. 135. M. Lucas, ibid. vol. xv. p. 355. Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii. p. 80. J. Sherman, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 163. A. B. Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 38. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 235. S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 339. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 239. Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi. p. 189. R. D: B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 43. XIII. 24-30, 36-43. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 23. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 33.
'The reformers speedily found,' observes Ruskin, 'that the enemy was never far behind the sower of good seed: that an evil spirit might enter the ranks of reformation as well as those of resistance; and that though the deadly blight might be checked amidst the wheat, there was no hope of ever ridding the wheat itself from the tares.'
Describing the French countrywoman, Reine Chrétien, in her novel of The Village on the Cliff, Miss Thackeray observes that 'she was a woman with love in her heart, but she was not tender, as some are, or long-suffering; she was not unselfish, as others who abnegate and submit until nothing remains but a soulless body, a cataleptic subject mesmerized by a stronger will. She was not humble, easily entreated, unsuspicious of evil. The devil and his angels had sown tares enough in her heart to spring up in the good soil thick and rank and abundant; only it was good soil in which they were growing, and in which the grain of mustard-seed would spring up too, and become a great tree in time, with wide-spreading branches, although the thick weeds and poisonous grasses were tangling in a wilderness at its root.
References. XIII. 25. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 96. XIII. 25, 26. S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 339. XIII. 27-30. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 196.
The Enemy in the Field
I. The Field is the Church. For it is the kingdom of heaven which is itself the field, and if our Lord adds also that the field is the world it is only because His Divine confidence was looking forward to that day when His Church should be universal. It is then inside and not outside the Church that this confusion is to be looked for. It is within the society of the baptized that the tares and the wheat are to be found side by side. And often the tares look so like the wheat that it is only in the fruit, not in the early growth, that the difference can be found out at all. The danger of a too early separation of the two lies not only in that disturbance of the soil which will chill and kill the roots of the healthy plant, but still more in the risk of making a real mistake and plucking up the true instead of the counterfeit growth. In very early days in the Church's history Christians began to see in this parable a counsel of warning and one of encouragement.
II. A Counsel of Warning. It forewarned them against that kind of disappointment which arises from a confusion of ideas the confusion of failure with imperfection. The results of the Gospel are real even when they are not complete. It is not the less true that Christ is the Saviour because all men will not come to Him. It is no argument against grace that men who seek it not do not receive it. It is no defect of the Gospel that that should come to pass which its Founder foretold that amongst the children of the kingdom there should be a plentiful growth of spurious plants, whether they take the form of unbelief or ungodliness or hypocrisy.
III. A Counsel of Encouragement. Not that this maxim is meant to forbid the proper exercise of discipline. It was not so that our Lord's Apostles understood it It is not so that our own Church interprets it. But it does mean to tell us that discipline has for its object the restoration not the condemnation of the offender. It means to encourage in us a spirit of watchfulness and fear, but not to encourage any deceptive hope that any kind of purging can guarantee the purity of what remains. Has not every man a right to be taken on his own profession a right to pass through life unchallenged as to his claim to be a follower of Christ?
IV. The Enemy in the Field. There is an enemy in God's field. Nowhere does the good sower carry his basket but a watchful foe follows in the night. That staggering question often suggests itself how can this be? God made the powerful mind. He made the beautiful form. Did He unmake the one, did he debase the other? The parable gives us the answer, still leaving it all in deep mystery. An enemy hath done this. But it is chiefly in one broad direction that the parable sets before us the danger of this hostile sowing. It is the danger to the good of the presence with them at their very side of the evil. The tares look like the wheat; it is often impossible to discriminate between them. But in these words our Lord teaches us decisively to disconnect all evil from the hand of God. Evil, He teaches us, is God's absence, and we need never be away from God. It is not His will that we should be. If anything now is drawing you to evil it is not from God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Strong as he is, he is weaker than God, Who will help us. If you live in this faith of the omnipotence of the All Good, then shall your heart be steadfast and fear no evil.
Names matter little; sin desolates us widely, pain racks us keenly, whether we account for their existence upon a positive or a negative theory. Yet it is remarkable that our Saviour, while He does not explain this awful problem, does not explain it away. To the old, ever-recurring question, 'Whence these tares?' He answers simply, 'An enemy hath done this'. Man has striven to bridge over this chasm between his soul and God with theories contradictory to the reason they profess to satisfy, and false to the moral sense they desire to soothe, but He who spake as never man spake does not reason upon this subject. He sees this great gulf set; He knows what its mouth has devoured of earth's best and noblest; one thing most precious of all remains He flings Himself within it.
'Envy,' observes Bacon at the close of his essay on this vice, 'is also the vilest affection, and the most depraved; For which cause it is the proper attribute of the Devill, who is called; The Envious Man, that soweth tares amongst the wheat by night. As it alwayes commeth to passe, that envy worketh subtilly, and in the darke; And to the prejudice of good things, such as is the wheat'.
References. XIII. 28. J. G. Adderley, Sermons for the People, vol. ii. p. 103. H. Scott Holland, God's City, p. 181. Adam Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 22. XIII. 29. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 239.
The Twofold Development
This affirmative of the parable involves two facts. Howsoever, on the one hand, wickedness may increase, it shall never so increase that there shall not; be still in the world some of God's wheat, some of the children of the kingdom. And howsoever, on the other hand, the number of true Christians may at any time increase, they will never so increase as that before the harvest, which our Lord tells us is the end of the present age, all men shall be truly converted.
I. The first affirmation of the parable has given us very momentous information as to the future course of human history. (1) Observe that it is impossible to understand this increase in numbers. Growth in character is the reference intended, not growth in number. (2) Observe that in this prophecy no account is taken of time. The Lord surveys human history in its totality from His own day to the end, from His first to His second coming. The total number of the children of the kingdom from the first to the second advent He calls wheat; the total number of the children of the wicked one from the first to the second Advent He calls tares.
II. The true nature of those tares which so cumber God's wheat-field is not by many fully recognized. Whatever changes in the form of wickedness there may be, they will be such as to bring out ever more and more distinctly its essentially diabolic, God-denying character. Even although the proportion of the converted to the unconverted should greatly increase, which may easily be, yet wickedness in those who remain unconverted will ever become more and more intense in its God-defying and law-rejecting spirit. This is what Jesus clearly means when He says that the tares shall 'grow until the harvest'.
III. The lessons of this subject are self-evident
(1) The words of Christ rebuke and should silence all baseless fears because of increasing wickedness.
(2) The parable no less truly rebukes all false hopes, so common with many in our day, as if we might for an instant hope to see in the present dispensation the church triumphant over the power of the devil, or to see evil at least suppressed if not destroyed. The parable tells us in so many words that this shall not be. (3) And has not the truth of the text a very solemn and searching personal application? Growth is a law of life. It is a law of the life in God. It is equally a law of the life in sin. And it is as with the wheat and the tares in the field: the very same influences which make the wheat grow make also the tares to grow. The truth which, if from the heart you receive it and obey it, saves you and makes you more like Christ; that very truth, if you do not believe it and obey it, makes you more the child of the wicked one and the slave of him in sin than you were before. In the spiritual life, as in the natural life, there is no standing still.
S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 275.
References. XIII. 30. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 43. R. W. Church, Cathedral and University Sermons, p. 29. B. Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, p. 65. S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 275. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 163.
The Principle of the Parables
Why may the grain of mustard seed be compared to the kingdom of heaven? It is not that they are like one another, for in the ordinary sense of the word they are not alike at all. But they are connected as it were by a cord, along which, if you feel your way, you will be guided from one to the other. And why is that? Because the same God who made the grain made also the soul of man and the Church. Every work of the same hand depicts the whole mind of him that made it.
I. The Parables are built upon the belief that everything that exists was made by a wise and good God, and that anything in the world can lead you up to the great Father of All. Now let us notice that we have there the one motive of all learning. Why do we want to know anything at all? Why do men study the rocks, or the flowers, or the stars? Because they believe that they enfold a secret, the secret of their birth. Because they believe that they are symbols, and that they can be made to reveal the mystery that lies behind them. Because, again, they believe, that that mystery, when revealed, must needs be beautiful and good.
II. Again, we find in the Parables not only the motive, but the process of all learning. Always we begin with the grain of mustard seed, with the plain, unattractive, obvious little fact. Most people pass it by. They want something grand and showy, and do not see what these common things can have to teach. But at last an eye that can see falls upon the despised little grain, and finds it worthy of patient study. And immediately it opens out, expands, etherealizes itself, revealing its wonderful mechanism, and behind the mechanism the laws of all life.
III. It is in this way that knowledge grows. We begin with the love of God's works. We put ourselves into the hands of Nature, and ask to be taught what she can teach us. We approach her in the disciple's spirit, the spirit of humility and patience, putting away all our own ideas and submitting to be led, trying to see things just as they are, counting nothing too small, nothing common or unclean. We stand in the path of light and the light comes, sometimes from teachers or fellow-workers, sometimes straight from above. This is the way of the intellectual life; and our Lord tells us in His Parables that the way of the spiritual life is the same. So He led His chosen disciples on from the grain of mustard seed to the confession of Peter, and from this again to the lessons of the Cross and of the Resurrection, always step by step and line upon line. But first of all we need the blessing 'Blessed are your eyes, for they see'. For we may see without seeing; what we want is the second sight.
What is it that we see first of all? A family gathered by the fireside, a group of young men at a lecture or a game, two friends walking together, the crowded street of a town, the trivial scenes that make up social life.
There, in the universal craving of man for companionship and communion and affection, you have the grain of mustard seed, the simple roadside fact. It is as necessary, as common, as the air that we breathe, and that is why we fail to see its meaning.
We must take this little fact of friendship into our hands, as the botanist takes the little grain of mustard seed, and ask what it means. If you approach it in the right spirit, in the teachable spirit, the spirit of discipleship, it will open for you, and show you how the whole Gospel, the kingdom of heaven, is wrapped up in the love of a friend for a friend. Wherever two or three are gathered together, there is Christ for those who have eyes to see.
C. Bigg, The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, p. 241.
I. The future can only belong to a Church which believes and preaches the forth-reaching, energizing, and active love of God.
To be out of the warmth of the Love of God is to be in the darkness, and how great is that darkness no one painted more clearly than Jesus Christ Himself. But it is the warmth of the sun which makes the soul cast off the cloak of its reserve, and not the terror of the darkness.
After all, why did God make anything except in love? Why did He redeem the world, except to his fatherly heart it was impossible to leave one in the darkness? And no Church will save the world, and especially those thousand millions who have not yet had a chance of making up their minds as to the truth of Christianity, except a Church that believes and proclaims and lives out the love of God to every child that He has made.
II. And with the gospel of the Love of God must go the message of a free salvation. That the Eternal Son of God came into this very world in which we live, and gave Himself for His brothers, that the Christian religion does not consist in a belief in a good man named Jesus Christ dying on the Cross, but consists in a belief in the Sacrifice of God Himself.
III. The greatest danger of the Church is worldliness. In one sense it is impossible for the Church to mix too freely with the world. But on the other hand, to catch the spirit of 'push,' to run a Church as a man runs a successful business, to depend upon cleverness and management, rather than the grace of God, to neglect prayer and intercession in favour of influence with the Press, to lower the teaching of the Church or its moral standard in order to suit an easy and self-indulgent age, is to spell ruin and failure and shame for the most orthodox Church in the world. In a voice which still rings down the centuries, Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed: 'My kingdom is not of this world'.
Only a Church whose weapons still are faith and hope and love and prayer can hope to win the world.
Bishop Winnington Ingram, The Church Times, vol. lviii. p. 503, 18 October, 1907.
References. XIII. 31. Bishop D. L. Lloyd, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 158. G. Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 168. XIII. 31, 32. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 52. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching far a Year, p. 105. F. D. Maurice, Christmas Day and Other Sermons, p. 347. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 81. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 166. H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1903, p. 88. W. W. Battershall, Interpretations of Life and Religion, p. 213. XIII. 31-33. F. Temple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 188. C. G. Lang, Thoughts in Some of the Parables of Jesus, p. 41. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies in the Parables of Our Lord, p. 40. XIII. 32. J. Parker, Studies in Texts, vol. i. p. 185. S. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 108. XIII. 33. H. Scott Holland, ibid. vol. xl. 1891, p. 216. R. S. Stores, ibid. vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 121. F. Pickett, ibid. vol. xlv. 1904, p. 19. J. Scott Lidgett, ibid. vol. xlix. 1906, p. 104. Henry Scott Holland, God's City, p. 143. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 81. T. G. Selby, The Strenuous Gospel, p. 336. M. J. McLeod, A Comfortable Faith, p. 179. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 70. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 244.
The Parable of the Leaven
I. The woman takes the leaven to lay it not on, but in the meal, where, working from within outwards, it changes the whole substance from the centre to the surface. It is through a corresponding change that the man goes to whom the Spirit of God communicates His grace. It is hidden in the heart. The change begins there; the outward reformation not preparing the way for regeneration, but springing from it; growing out of it as a tree grows out of its seed, or a stream flows out of its spring. In consequence of its being lodged in their hearts, true Christians, so far from being hypocrites, have more of the reality of religion than of its appearance.
II. So soon as leaven is embedded in its substance, a change immediately ensues; a process of fermentation is set agoing, and, extending from within outwards, goes on till by a law of nature the whole lump is leavened. Neither art nor nature could supply a better simile of the grace of God than this.
The peculiarity of grace is this, that like leaven it changes whatever it is applied to into its own nature. For as leaven turns meal into leaven, so Divine grace imparts a gracious character to the heart; and this is what I call its assimilating element. Yet let there be no mistake. While the grace of God changes all who are brought in conversion under its influence, it does not impart any new power of passion, bat works by giving to those we already have a holy bent; by impressing on them a heavenly character.
III. It is said of the meal in which the woman hid the leaven, that 'the whole,' not a portion of it, large or small, 'was leavened'. The Apostle brings out the same diffusive character of this element when he says, 'A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump'. Even so, teaching us not to despise the day of smell things, a little grace lodged in the heart spreads till it sanctify the whole man. Some things diffuse themselves rapidly. There are deadly poisons 30 rapid and indeed sudden in their action that the cup falls from the suicide's hand; he is a dead man before he has time to set it down. To these grace stands out in striking contrast, not only because it is saving, but because it is ordinarily slow in bringing its work to a holy and blessed close; and in that respect grace and sin correspond well to their figures of life and death.
Still, let God's people thank Him, and take courage. Though grace, unlike sin, and like leaven, is slow in its progress, it shall change the whole man betimes.
Thomas Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 9.
References. XIII. 33. M. Dods, Christ and Men, p. 151. XIII. 33-35. W. J. Knox-Little, The Light of Life, p. 312. XIII. 34, 35. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought on Sacred Things, vol. i. p. 270. XIII. 37, 38. J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 72. Ibid., Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 339. XIII. 37-39. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 217. XIII. 38. C J. Vaughan, Words from the Cross, p. 152. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 53. XIII. 39. Plain Sermons by Contributors to the 'Tracts for The Times,' vol. vi. p. 219. Malan, Plain Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 175. XIII. 43. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 227. E. L. Hull, Sermons, p. 237.
'I want you,' writes James Smetham to a friend, 'to... try to realize while you seek that as soon as your foot is turned to the fields of gold, all heaven is astir to help you. Strange helps will come to you hints, intuitions, breathings, curious allurements.'
The kingdom of God is as treasure hid in a field; and of those who profess to help us to seek for it, we are not to put confidence in those who say Here is the treasure, we have found it, and have it, and will give you some of it; but in those who say We think that is a good place to dig, and you will dig most easily in such and such a way.'
Ruskin, On the Old Road, II.
References. XIII. 44. A. J. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 328. T. Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 150. H. Scott Holland, God's City, p. 161; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 177. W. H. Brannan, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 292. Trench, Parables, p. 121. Winterbotham's Sermons, p. 139. Prof. Calderwood, 'The Exceeding Value of Spiritual Good Found in God's Kingdom,' Parables, p. 234; Biblical Things not Generally Known, vol. i. par. 146. XIII. 44-46. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 65. Woolcot Catkin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 104. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 251. C. G. Lang, Thoughts on Some of the Parables of Jesus, p. 63. Kitto's, 'The Treasure and the Pearl,' Daily Bible Illustrations, vol. vii. p. 314. Parker's Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 256. A. B. Bruce, in Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii. p. 360 (and same in his Parabolic Teaching of Christ). Allon, 'How Men Find Christ,' Pulpit Analyst, vol. iii. p. 601. Barfield, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v. p. 167. Wray, 'Kingdom of Heaven,' ibid. vol. xvi. p. 360. W. M. Metcalfe, 'The Twin Parables,' Expositor (2nd Series), vol. viii. p. 54. J. Henry Burn, ibid. vol. viii. 468.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price
Some lessons taught by this figure of a merchant:
I. It Teaches Us to Make Religion our Chief Pursuit. Such is to the merchant his business. To it he does not allot merely some hours stolen from the pursuits of pleasure. In its pursuit he is all energy and activity.
II. It Teaches Us to Guard Against Deception. The money which has a suspicious look the wary trader rings on his counter; knowing what frauds are practised in business, the wise merchant often puts such goods as he receives to the test; and the utmost care is taken in such a trade, especially as that of this parable, to guard against mistakes or imposition. The dupes of fraud, men have paid immense sums for pearls which were found to be only paste.
But, through the deceitfulness of the heart and wiles of the devil, men have been greater dupes and suffered unspeakably greater losses. As it is not all gold that glitters, it is not all grace that seems so. There is a righteousness which is ours, as well as one which is Christ's. Such being the case, no merchant needs to be more on his guard against fraud and deception than those who may flatter themselves that they are regenerated when they are only reformed.
III. It Teaches Us to Examine our Accounts with God. The wise merchant takes stock, balances bis books, and, in some businesses at least, strikes a balance on every day's transactions. In this, as in the energy and toil and self-denial and resolution of worldly, how much is then worthy of the imitation of Christian men? Why should not we, at the close of each day, recall and review its transactions to see how our accounts stand with conscience and with God. And as I have seen the workman, ere he retired to rest, throw himself into stream or sea to wash away the sweat and dust of his daily toil, from such a review the Christian would repair each evening to the fountain of Jesus' blood to be cleansed of the guilt of daily sins; and rise each morning to seek the aids of the Holy Spirit to do his work, to keep his watch, to bear his burden, to fight his battle better.
Thomas Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 188.
References. XIII. 45. J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Moments, p. 63. H. Scott Holland, God's City, p. 226. Ibid., Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 205. XIII. 45, 46. Morgan Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 208. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 60. Bishop Creighton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 91. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 90. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 147. Benjamin Keach, 'The Pearl of Great Price,' Gospel Mysteries, book I. p. 157. Charles Simeon, Works, vol. xi. p. 414. Trench, Parables, p. 131. Winterbotham's Sermons, p. 142. Prof. Calderwood, 'Wisdom in Seeking and Distributing Spiritual Good,' Parables, p. 246. McDougall's Sermons, p. 288. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1424.
The pearl is a free gift! What then is meant by saying that the merchant-man who had found it went and sold all that he had, and bought it? The meaning is, that there is no room for it in a heart which is filled with other things; he who would possess it must make room for it. It is not and cannot be enjoyed unless it occupies the whole heart.
Erskine of Linlathen.
References. XIII. 46. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 123. Spurgeon in Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv. p. 160. C. J. Vaughan in Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 21. XIII. 47. H. Scott Holland, God's City, p. 204; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 157. J. L. Fraser, ibid. vol. xli. 1892, p. 348. C. W. Stubbs, For Christ and City, p. 106. XIII. 47-50. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 103. The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 209. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 80. XIII. 51, 52. J. O. Bevan, The Spheres of Action of Science and Religion, p. 1. E. B. Speirs, A Present Advent, p. 66.
Christ Is God
In a large church in Havana, where the black worshippers sit in a different part of the church from the white worshippers, and enter by a different door, outside the door by which the white men enter a white marble statue of the Christ stands, while outside that by which the black men enter a facsimile of the same statue stands in black marble.
The arrangement embodies in a crude form a very fundamental expression of the Christian spirit. It is a parable of very deep truth. Each race of man, before it can accept Christ, must interpret Him for itself in the terms of its own characteristic qualities. It is because it finds its own highest possibilities realized in Him, and its own deepest needs and aspirations satisfied in Him, that it acknowledges Him as its Lord, and what is true of a race of men is true of each generation of that race, and of each individual man belonging to that generation.
I. How did Christ's First Followers arrive at the Assurance that He was the Incarnate Son of God? Christ did not make His claim to men indiscriminately. He distinctly said again and again that He came not to call the righteous, that is to say, the morally and spiritually satisfied, but sinners, those who were morally and spiritually dissatisfied, and He again and again reiterated the statement that the majority of those who heard Him, though they had ears to hear, could hear not, and though they had eyes, could see not, that only to those whose soul-ears and soul-eyes were open could He make His appeal, that they only were capable of recognizing His nature and His claim. To the former class He spoke in parables and hard sayings, to the latter He unfolded the mysteries of the kingdom without reserve. He came to them with the declaration 'I am the Way. No man cometh to the Father but by Me' the Father, the fountain source of that life which they craved, the supreme Lawgiver behind the Law, Whose voice they could hear speaking with more or less distinctness, through the depths of their own consciences. 'The way to the Father' this was what Christ declared Himself to be. Those who joined themselves to Him joined themselves to His Father, for He and His Father He declared to be One.
II. The Conviction of the Divinity of Christ rests on the Testimony of Conscience, on the instinctive recognition by the power with which God has endowed every human soul to be its medium of communication with Him. As the eye responds to light, so conscience responds to Christ. 'This is light,' is not the outcome of any argument; it is the statement of an instinctive and immediate judgment that no argument can change. And so it is with conscience, the eye of the soul. Its recognition of Christ in God is not the outcome of any argument, any external evidence. It depends only on its own activity and on Christ's presence.
III. Outward Stimulus is Necessary to stir the conscience into activity. Doubtless, too, the intellect can help in clearing away the prejudices, misunderstandings which often hinder the eye of faith from seeing its true object, but the act of faith transcends all external evidence, all intellectual processes. It is quite complete in itself, bringing its own assurance with it, an assurance that no external evidence can produce and no external objection can shake. It is a supernatural act, a conscious recognition of the Divine by the Divine, a conscious union of God with His own. Surely the teaching of the New Testament is quite clear with regard to this. No man cometh to Him unless the Father draws him, unless the God within him draws him to the God outside him.
IV. What then is the Ultimate Basis of Christian Faith? It is found in man's ultimate moral and spiritual needs, the needs of his complete manhood, and in the fact that Christ has satisfied these needs. Thus it was that the first followers of Christ attained to a sure conviction that He was indeed God incarnate in the flesh. That conviction was common to them all, but their interpretations of its content and its claim depended on the kind of satisfaction that they had individually attained, and that in turn depended on the individual needs to which this satisfaction was related. On the Day of Pentecost the Divine Spirit was poured out on the whole body of believers assembled together. Notice the enormous significance of that fact. The Christ life in which these believers shared, the life in which they lived and moved and had their being, was no mere private endowment of each individual Christian. It was the common possession of the whole body.
It is only in the light of this conception of the essential character of the Christian life, the essentially supernatural on the one side and the essentially corporate on the other, that the eye of faith can see its way clearly through the clouds of intellectual and practical embarrassment which obscure its vision at the present day.
In 1870 Jowett noted down the following list of 'subjects which ought to be, but never are, treated in sermons: Love. The passions not generally but particularly. Good manners. Differences of rank. The right use of money. The influence of art. Self-dedication. The limits of self-denial. Failure in life'.
It is the mission of the genius to show that portion of the wealth of Nature, which he has been permitted to remove, to those incapable of finding it for themselves, or even of suspecting its presence.
Millet, Notes on Art
References. XIII. 52. J. Parker, Studies in Text, vol. i. p. 162. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 4. Bishop E. C. S. Gibson, The Old Testament in the New, p. 177.
The Unaccountable Man
I. The astonishment of the Nazarenes, among whom Jesus had been brought up, was the greater because they knew all about the Preacher's home and upbringing. When we see a man endowed with special and unique qualities, we always try to account for them. And we look for the secret of these extraordinary qualities chiefly to two things: (1) to a man's parentage, and (2) to a man's education. Again and again you may read in the biographies of great men sentences like these? 'He inherited his strength of will from his father. He derived his gentleness of disposition from his mother.' Mental as well as physical characteristics descend from parents to children, and heredity supplies the key to many a man's character. In fact, since the idea of evolution has become one of our dominant intellectual ideas, we are almost inclined to think that every man's career can be fully explained by an investigation of his family history.
Next only to parentage in importance in the formation of a man's character is education. And I use education in a broad sense, including not only the means at his disposal for the training of his mind, but also the influences, the political, social, religious, intellectual influences that have played upon a man in the formative years of his life. The age a man lives in; the ideals and aspirations of his time; the teachers he comes in contact with all these things go a long way towards the make-up of his character. And the Nazarenes thought of these things as they listened to the Preacher that day. He was an unaccountable Man.
II. Amongst all classes and sections of the people Christ created a feeling of wonder. The doctors were 'amazed'; the multitudes were 'astonished'; the disciples 'wondered'; the governor 'marvelled'. Jesus everywhere created the impression that He was unique. Men could not, on ordinary lines, explain Him. He suggested questions which none could answer. 'Whence hath this Man this wisdom, and these mighty works?' How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?' 'By what authority doest Thou these things, and who gave Thee this authority? Whence art thou?' He was a mystery, a puzzle, an enigma to them. From the human standpoint, He was to everybody in Palestine, from the humblest peasant in Galilee at the bottom, to Pontius Pilate the governor at the top, an 'unaccountable Man'.
Now, I want to go a step farther still, and say, that the wonderful phenomenon Jesus appeared to the Nazarenes, and what He was to the people of Palestine generally, that He is to the men and women of Today. Starting from the purely human standpoint, Christ is to this day the world's unaccountable Man.
1. Consider the wisdom of Christ. 'Whence hath this Man this wisdom?' The Jews had their great rabbis, like Shammai and Hillel, but the wisdom of Shammai and Hillel was as dust and dross compared to the wisdom that fell from the lips of Jesus. How was it that a village Carpenter was able to surpass the wisest of the ancients? How came it that their most learned doctors were mere children in their knowledge of Divine things compared to this peasant Preacher? Whence hath this Man this wisdom?
2. The authority of Christ. 'They were astonished at His teaching,' we read, 'for He taught them as one having authority '. Yes, that is a mark of the teaching of Christ He speaks with authority.
And this 'authority' which Jesus takes to Himself, conscience freely and gladly admits. As Dr. Dale says, we do not argue the matter out, but we perceive, instinctively and intuitively, that Jesus is our Moral Ruler, that He is the Lord of our moral and religious life. We feel towards Him as we feel to no other teacher in the world. We discuss the conclusions of other teachers; we submit to His.
3. The 'mighty works' of Christ 'Whence,' said the Nazarenes in their bewilderment, 'hath this Man this wisdom and these mighty works?' The 'powers 'of Christ astonished them as much or even more than His words. For Christ not only spoke wonderful words, but He also wrought the most wonderful deeds. His 'powers' (for that is the literal meaning of the words translated 'mighty works') created astonishment and wonder wherever He went.
And Christ still confronts the world and challenges it to account for Him. He healed the sick, He cleansed the leper, He cast out devils; He gave speech to the dumb; He gave sight to the blind; He gave life to the dead; and that question faces us and demands an answer How came Christ by this wondrous power? Whence hath this Man these mighty works?
J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 25.
Reference. XIII. 55. W. C. Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 311.
Crabb Robinson notes in his diary how once, when he was in the Lake Country, 'Mr. Hutton, a very gentlemanly and seemingly intelligent man, asked me, "Is it true as I have heard reported that Mr. Wordsworth ever wrote verses?"'
Men, and almost all sorts of creatures, have their reputation by distance. Rivers, the further they run, and more from their spring, the broader they are and greater.
References. XIII. 5-7. P. W. Dainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 13. XIII. 5-8. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Common Life Religion, p. 188. J. M. Hodgson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 214. H. A. Stimson, The New Things of God, p. 132. T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 69. XIV. 1-12. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 262.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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