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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 13

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-58

Matthew 13:2 . He went into a ship. A small vessel or boat, probably belonging to one of the disciples, several of whom were fishermen.

Matthew 13:3 . He spake many things to them in parables. On the mount our Saviour unfolded the grace of his kingdom, and rescued the purity and perfection of the law from the glosses of rabbinical traditions. Here, making a pulpit of the ship, he varied his method, and spake in parables after the manner frequently resorted to in the east. This mode of instruction interested attention; the hearer would pry into the mystery, and seek to open the latent treasure. To our Saviour the method was highly advantageous; he constructed his parables into prophecies, and disguised events from the public eye, which were not proper to be plainly disclosed till after his resurrection. To the church parabolic instruction is advantageous a thousand ways. Husbandry, merchandise, domestic economy, and all the fruitfulness of fields and trees are aptly converted into preachers; yea, heaven and earth reflect the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven in a thousand forms, and every moment reminds us of what we should never forget.

Behold, a sower went forth to sow. The scene of this parable is properly a sort of town-field, containing roads to the lots of land. In so ample a space of ground there would be both stony ground, and thorny places. The sower is Christ, surrounded in the open field by ministers of all ages; and the seed is the word of the kingdom, scattered with a liberal hand. The hearers are divided into four classes.

First, those who hear the gospel and understand it not, because they do not give heed to it. They attend for recreation, or from habit; they hear with wandering eyes, and with a hard unfeeling heart. Satan, ever watchful to devour, as the birds which follow the husbandman, by vain and worldly thoughts, picks away what is sown in the heart. This hearer, by suffering a thousand follies to occupy his heart, forfeits his salvation.

Next the stony ground hearers are charmed with the theory of the gospel, with the accomplishments of the preacher, and the exterior lustre of religion; with the historic subject of the scriptures, while the promises of eternal life afford them pleasure and hope. But their hearts are unploughed; and when persecution happens, they do not know the persecuted; or when religious scandals fall out, instead of weeping for the sinner, they are wrathful and bitter; or when solicited for some support for ministers, they make a thousand excuses, and suffer the christian temper to wither as corn on a rocky soil.

Thirdly, the thorny ground hearer goes farther, and gives for a time the fairest hopes of conversion. But his repentance being imperfect, the thorns being only stubbed instead of being eradicated, the old propensities of a worldly mind spring from their deep roots, and choke the wheat.

From these three classes of abortive hearers we learn two grand lessons. One is, that genuine religion begins by a broken and a contrite heart for sin. The ground must be broken up, and cleared of all the stones and thorns which frustrate the most hopeful prospects of grace. Next, piety must be the prevailing propensity of the heart; and so much so, that earthly pursuits must be regarded as mere circumstances in our pilgrimage, compared with our salvation. Ignorance, carelessness, and covetousness will utterly confound a man in the harvest day, while he who received the gospel into a good and honest heart brings forth fruit to perfection. He cultivates grace with care, he mortifies the body with the strictest temperance, and cherishes every divine affection till all his soul is adorned, like the harvest field, with the fruits of righteousness by faith.

Matthew 13:9 . Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. This is a just and happy turn of thought, calling back the mind to review the truths just presented by the speaker. John, in the revelation, often follows this form of speech at the close of a sentence. In the Voluspa, the most ancient of northern poems, we find the like recal at the close of several stanzas. Bitith enn etha hvath. Say, ye warrior gods, “Conceive ye this?” Moses laments that the Lord had not given the people an ear to hear, though they had known his works. Deuteronomy 29:4.

Matthew 13:10 . Why speakest thou to them in parables. In Professor George Campbell’s new translation of the four gospels, the answer reads thus, “Because it is your privilege, and not theirs, to know the secrets of the reign of heaven. For to him that hath, more shall be given, and he shall abound; but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken. For this reason I speak to them in parables; because they seeing, see not; and hearing, hear not, nor regard; inasmuch as this prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in them. Ye may indeed listen, but will not understand; ye may look, but will not perceive. For this people’s understanding is stupified, their ears are deafened, and their eyes they have closed; lest seeing with their eyes, hearing with their ears, and apprehending with their minds, they should repent, and I should reclaim them.” This version is correct, and it coincides with the LXX, as quoted by St. Paul in Acts 28:25-26. It proves that the ear must be gained by similies before the mind can be attracted by sublimer truths, just as we prepare children by fables to relish the beauties of enlightened discourse.

Matthew 13:11 . But to them it is not given. Christ, says Chrysostom, speaks thus, not as though he designed to introduce the doctrine of fate and necessity, but to show that wicked men are the cause of their own evils, and that the knowledge of divine mysteries is the gift of God.

Matthew 13:16-17 . Blessed are your eyes, for they see. The fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ, is the unsearchable riches of his glory. The eyes of our understanding being enlightened, we know what is the hope of our calling. We receive adoption and glory, we sit in heavenly places in Christ, and are admitted to the visions of God in the plan of our redemption. We behold with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image. In a word, the gospel gives us admission to the full scale of benedictions, reaching from earth to heaven, and from the blessings on the holy patriarchs, who longed to see the day of Christ, till the final blessing of the Father, which gives us admission to his everlasting kingdom.

Matthew 13:24 . The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field. Associate with the parable of the sower is that of the tares. It is designed to comfort the church when grieved at the degeneracy of principle and practice in her members. But what are the tares? Answer zizania, a Syriac word of doubtful import. Lightfoot says it means bad wheat. A latin author says it means lolium, that is a weed called ray, darnel, cockle, or tares. No matter; the spiritual import is explained by our Lord to mean bad members in the true church, whose hearts are inclined to error, heresy or vice. We may say of many professors as a Roman does of the corn; “The wheat and the barley are changed into lolium.” Oh my soul, do not slumber, nor suffer the enemy to sow erroneous principles in thy heart, which shall lead to burning in the issue. But why must we let them grow to the harvest? Must we not root out error and heretics, or wicked professors from the church? In all cases which are clear, we must not eat with drunkards, fornicators, and covetous men. They must be expelled till reformed, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. But cases which to man are doubtful, we must leave to the Lord of the harvest, for if we hearken to slander, we may root out the precious wheat with the worthless tares. But let the tares know, that though spared of man, their punishment shall be greater when condemned of the Lord. The man that spares his sins will be burned with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 13:25 . While men slept, his enemy, diabolus, came and sowed tares. The grand enemy struggles hard to keep the world for his own, by idolatry, by arianism, by the titular idolatries and tyranny of Rome; to which we must add, the overflowing of wickedness in the christian world. The institutions of piety decay, and the best of charitable endowments are partially plundered. It is the same in doctrine; when men have once embraced an error, we cannot root it out; they will obstinately defend it, even at the expense of every other christian doctrine. What an argument for vigilance in the husbandman!

Matthew 13:28 . Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? Shall we root them out of the field? No; for lolium has a resemblance to wheat. You may root out the good; and time must be allowed to the wicked for repentance. You cannot root out the wicked without hurting the righteous; the too sudden destruction would make many widows, fill the world with orphans, and throw the poor out of bread, by stopping the course of trade. Let the incorrigible fill up their measure, and in due time the angels shall gather together the tares, and burn them with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 13:30 . Let both grow together till the harvest. The church cannot expel members, except for immorality. God only can search the heart, and try the reins. Grotius refers us here to a similar case in the jewish Bereschit Rabba, a book to which few have access. The Latin critics copy the reference; it gets rid of a knotty question. Of Jezebel, a christian prophetess, and of the zizania family, it is said, I gave her space to repent, for the longsuffering of God is salvation. Revelation 2:21. God takes the hard cases in the church, which lie beyond the reach of discipline, into his own hands. Others give the words another turn: Est quidem hæc valde molesta conditio quod reprobis oneratur ecclesia usque ad finem mundi.

Matthew 13:31 . The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed. The work of God, whether of grace in the heart, or of truth in the earth, is small in its commencement, but great in the issue. When the poor fishermen left their nets, they had no idea of filling celestial thrones, and of judging the world. But, however despicable the christians might appear, their little tree became so great that the gentile nations came to lodge in its branches.

Matthew 13:33 . The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven. Leaven is used in the north of England. It is dough preserved in a cup, with water enough to keep it moist from baking to baking; and turning extremely sour, it ferments the dough instead of yeast or barm; and the taste it communicates to bread is by no means unpleasant to those who are used to it. In like manner the grace of God changes the heart into the holy nature and image of God, until it finally expels all the old leaven of malice and wickedness.

Matthew 13:43 . Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. No longer overshadowed and obscured by the tares, they shall shine forth in godlike knowledge, in the beauties of holiness, in degrees of bodily lustre, by reflecting the glory of Christ. Ages, successions, and infinities of saints shall shine as celestial constellations in the heavenly kingdom; and all this exterior glory shall only be the emanations of that glory which dwells in their hearts.

Matthew 13:44 . The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field. Christ in the glory of his person, Christ in the hidden treasures of his wisdom, and Christ in the riches of his grace is the treasure hid in the field. And though figuratively we are said to purchase that field, the word implies only the boundless esteem we entertain for Christ and his grace, for all the substance of our house could not purchase his favour. A man properly acquainted with his worth will barter every sinful honour, or pleasure, or gain, to obtain the true riches which are found in Christ. The same may be said of the pearl of great price: the parables are much the same in design. Every merchant aiming at a fortune should be reminded that there is in heaven a better and more enduring substance.

Matthew 13:45 . The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls. Καλους , fair, beautiful, and brilliant pearls: all other gems are understood to be comprised in these researches. The pearl-oysters in old age sometimes secrete in their heads a large and brilliant pearl of great value. And if merchants will go to India, and men in dangerous seas will drag for oysters, it is but a small requisition that we should sacrifice hurtful desires to purchase a kingdom without money and without price.

Matthew 13:47 . The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net cast into the sea. Here is instruction for ministers. The laborious fisherman keeps his net in good repair, he nightly encounters the dangers of the deep, he casts his net in the most likely places, but in uncertainty whether he shall succeed. He casts his net amid the clouds and storms, and waves of life; and the fish he encloses are not always of good quality. So it is with the faithful ministers of Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/matthew-13.html. 1835.
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