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Matthew 13

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The parables of Jesus.—The word “parable” has in the New Testament, in its application to the discourses of Jesus, a considerably wider meaning than the one in which we speak of the parables of the Lord in the current phraseology of the church. The designation παραβολή, from παραβάλλειν (therefore = placing side by side, comparing), belongs to every utterance containing a comparison of any kind (see Luke 5:36; Luke 6:39; Mark 3:23 ff.; Matthew 24:32; Mark 13:28). All these maxims are called parables because, in a visible fact, belonging to the sphere of physical or human life, they picture a corresponding truth in the sphere of religious life. A still more general use of “parable” is seen in the passage (Matthew 15:15), where it refers to the utterance of the Lord in Matthew 13:11 (cf. Matthew 13:16-20). Here, therefore, it refers to a concrete maxim without a properly figurative character, simply of an enigmatical stamp. A similar use, under another aspect, is found in the passage Luke 4:23 where the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself,” is called a parable, and that, as it seems, not so much because of its figurative, as rather merely because of its proverbial character. (Goebel).

The “parable” in the stricter sense.—The idea of the parable may be generally defined to this effect: A narrative moving within the sphere of physical or human life, not professing to communicate an event which really took place, but expressly imagined for the purpose of representing in pictorial figure a truth belonging to the sphere of religion, and therefore referring to the relation of man or mankind to God (ibid.).

The seven parables of the kingdom in this chapter are not to be regarded as grouped together by Matthew. They were spoken consecutively, as is obvious from the notes of time in Matthew 13:36; Matthew 13:53. They are a great whole, setting forth the “mystery of the kingdom” in its method of establishment, its corruption, its outward and inward growth, the condition of entrance into it, and its final purification. The sacred number seven, impressed upon them, is the token of completeness. They fall into two parts, four of them being spoken to the multitudes from the boat, and presenting the more obvious aspects of the development of the kingdom; three being addressed to the disciples in the house, and setting forth truths about it more fitted for them (A. Maclaren, D.D.).

Verses 1-17



The parables of Jesus.—The word “parable” has in the New Testament, in its application to the discourses of Jesus, a considerably wider meaning than the one in which we speak of the parables of the Lord in the current phraseology of the church. The designation παραβολή, from παραβάλλειν (therefore = placing side by side, comparing), belongs to every utterance containing a comparison of any kind (see Luke 5:36; Luke 6:39; Mark 3:23 ff.; Matthew 24:32; Mark 13:28). All these maxims are called parables because, in a visible fact, belonging to the sphere of physical or human life, they picture a corresponding truth in the sphere of religious life. A still more general use of “parable” is seen in the passage (Matthew 15:15), where it refers to the utterance of the Lord in Matthew 13:11 (cf. Matthew 13:16-20). Here, therefore, it refers to a concrete maxim without a properly figurative character, simply of an enigmatical stamp. A similar use, under another aspect, is found in the passage Luke 4:23 where the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself,” is called a parable, and that, as it seems, not so much because of its figurative, as rather merely because of its proverbial character. (Goebel).

The “parable” in the stricter sense.—The idea of the parable may be generally defined to this effect: A narrative moving within the sphere of physical or human life, not professing to communicate an event which really took place, but expressly imagined for the purpose of representing in pictorial figure a truth belonging to the sphere of religion, and therefore referring to the relation of man or mankind to God (ibid.).

The seven parables of the kingdom in this chapter are not to be regarded as grouped together by Matthew. They were spoken consecutively, as is obvious from the notes of time in Matthew 13:36; Matthew 13:53. They are a great whole, setting forth the “mystery of the kingdom” in its method of establishment, its corruption, its outward and inward growth, the condition of entrance into it, and its final purification. The sacred number seven, impressed upon them, is the token of completeness. They fall into two parts, four of them being spoken to the multitudes from the boat, and presenting the more obvious aspects of the development of the kingdom; three being addressed to the disciples in the house, and setting forth truths about it more fitted for them (A. Maclaren, D.D.).

Matthew 13:1. The same day.—The time is marked of this following sermon, and the place also, to teach us that nothing could hinder Christ from spreading the doctrine of salvation. No opposition of foes, no misconstructions of friends were able to discourage Him from His calling; for that “same day” wherein He had a bitter conflict with the Pharisees and interruption from His friends, that same day, without wearying or fainting in labour, He goeth to the sea-side to teach (David Dickson). The house.—Where He was accustomed to dwell, and where also the events of this day, previously related, took place (Goebel.) Sat.—See note on Matthew 13:1. By the sea side.—While the Sea of Galilee is almost entirely surrounded by mountains, yet the mountains, says Dean Stanley, “never come down into the water, but always leave a beach of greater or less extent along the water’s edge.”

Matthew 13:4. The wayside.—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 (Hackett).

Matthew 13:5. Stony places.Rocky (R.V.). Not soil containing loose stones, but a bed of rock, with only a slight covering of soil.

Matthew 13:8. An hundred-fold.—See Genesis 26:12. The return of a hundred for one is not unheard of in the East, though always mentioned as something extraordinary (Trench). When I was at Geneva, in 1855, I got from an adjoining field a single ear or spike of barley containing two hundred and seventy-six grains (Morison). In 1868, a year remarkable for its heat in Great Britain, it was mentioned in the newspapers that, in a field of wheat in Kent, there were many single seeds which produced each “thirty straws, topped with closely-set and fully-developed ears, which yielded between nine-hundred and one thousand grains from a single parent seed.”—Daily Review, August 14th, 1868 (ibid.).

Matthew 13:10. And the disciples came, etc.—Their question seems to show that our Saviour had just begun this peculiar style of teaching, at least in its more fully developed form. It was, as we learn from Mark 4:10, when “He was alone,” that the disciples asked their question. We may, therefore, suppose that some of the other parables were addressed to the people before the question was put (ibid.).

Matthew 13:11. Mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.—Those glorious gospel truths which at that time only the more advanced disciples could appreciate, and they but partially (Brown).

Matthew 13:12. Whosoever hath.I.e. keeps, as a thing which he values. Whosoever hath not.—Who lets this go, or lie unused, as a thing on which he sets no value (ibid.).

Matthew 13:13. Because (ὅτι) they seeing see not.—In Mark (Mark 4:12) and Luke (Luke 8:10), it is “that (ἵνα) seeing they might not see.” Two different objects were effected at the same time, and by the same act, corresponding to those two terms; it is true that the Lord employed parables, as one employs pictures to teach a child, because His auditors were children in understanding; and it is also true that He veiled His doctrines under metaphor in order that those who were children in understanding, but in malice men, might not perceive His drift, and so might not violently interfere to suppress His ministry (Arnot). But even here we may venture to trace beneath the penalty an element of mercy. The parable could, at all events, do men no harm. It could not rouse the fierce enmity that had been kindled by truth spoken in its plainness. And it might prepare the way, might set men thinking and questioning, and if so, that was at least one step towards the “having,” though it were but a very little, which might place them among those to whom more shall be given. (Plumptre).

Matthew 13:14. Fulfilled.—Or rather, is completely fulfilled, a strong expression, not otherwise used by Matthew, but foremost in the sentence by way of emphasis (Lange). The tense is that of a work still in progress (Plumptre). The quotation is from the LXX.

Matthew 13:15. This people’s heart is waxed gross.—The heart was regarded as the seat of intelligence. Gross =fat, so stolid, dull (Carr). Should be converted.Should turn again (R.V.). Moral unwillingness resulting in moral inability (Schaff).


Timely teaching.—The Saviour here adopts a style of instruction almost peculiar to Himself. “He spake unto them by parables.” So much so, indeed, at this time, that, when He ceases to do so, attention is drawn to the fact (Matthew 13:53). It may not be amiss, therefore, to use the first of these parables—that now before us—to see what a parable is. In other words, to try and learn, from this specimen of the class:

1. The chief characteristics.

2. The natural consequences.

3. The special purpose—of this method of teaching.

I. Its chief characteristics.—These are, first, and of course, that, on the surface, it speaks of things familiar and known. In this first parable, e.g. that of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8), this is obviously the case. All the Saviour’s hearers had heard something of sowing and soils, of harvests and crops. Probably most of them thought that of such things they knew a great deal. Secondly, it was necessary, of course, if the parable was to be listened to, that it should have a story of some kind, or main idea, to characterise it throughout. In this first parable, this “main idea” was that of failure in sowing. Out of four kinds of soils mentioned, there was only one from which a harvest was reaped. Thirdly, it was equally necessary, to make it a “parable,” that the story told should mean more than it says. Like a “safe” locked up, its very aspect should show that it holds a treasure within. This was plainly so in this case. Evidently the Saviour, as He sat in that ship and spake to the multitudes that were pressing upon Him to hear His instructions, was thinking of more than mere sowing and reaping. If they did not think this during the setting forth of the parable, they must have felt so at its close. “He that hath ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9, R. V.). What was this but to say, in effect, I have told you more than appears? Such, therefore, according to this primary parable, is what a parable is—a familiar story, the meaning of which is not familiar as yet.

II. Its natural consequences.—These would be, on the one hand, identical; on the other, diverse. They would be identical, to begin. To such teaching almost every hearer would be disposed to listen at first. A “bit of a story” about things we know about has inevitable charms for us all. It is like hearing the accents of one’s mother tongue in a far-away land. One naturally turns to it from everything else. After this, however, the consequences would differ very widely indeed. In the case of a willing and teachable hearer, for example, this form of teaching would at once stimulate further inquiry, and so prepare for further instruction; and so, finally and fully, when received, insure its retention. No man could learn more than such a learner would from this style of instruction. At once it would open his hand, and fill his palm, and tighten his grasp. On the other hand, all this would be exactly reversed with a hearer of a different stamp. Such a hearer would never get beyond the mere shell of this nut. He would see the outside of the “safe,” but nothing beside. Never troubling to inquire, he would never learn. Never searching, he would never discover. A form of words, in short, that had a meaning of some sort; a challenge to inquiry never responded to on his part; a great opportunity come and gone—that is all that the parable spoken would be in his case.

III. Its special purpose.—This was, briefly, in order to bring about the very consequences described. According to the order of the Gospel before us, recent events had brought strongly to light the exceeding captiousness of some of the hearers of Christ. Their extraordinary perverseness (Matthew 11:18-19), their invincible unbelief (Matthew 11:20-24), their lamentable hypocrisy (Matthew 12:24-37), had all been—almost strikingly—brought home to His notice. On the other hand, this had only the more strikingly exhibited the opposite bearing of some of His hearers; of those, e.g. of whom He had only just now spoken, because of this, as His “brothers” indeed (Matthew 12:49-50). How is the Saviour to deal with both sides of this condition of things? Here are hearers before Him of both the opposite kinds of which we have spoken. How is He to speak words which shall be suitable to them both? Words which shall convey the “pearls” of His teaching to those who truly desire them? Words which, at the same time, shall not merely expose them in other quarters to be “trampled on” with contempt? This method of “parables” exactly accomplishes both these two ends. And in this fact, therefore, is the reason why He chooses it now. According to His own account of the matter—according to that account of the matter which had been given in the pages of prophecy ages before—this is why He chooses it now (Matthew 13:10-17).

In a general way this view of a “parable”—as a kind of “parable” itself—may teach us two things. It may teach us:—

1. How easily truth may be missed.—These careless hearers of the Saviour’s parables had only to continue their carelessness and their wretched object was gained. This is true of other things too. Of almost all the teaching of God in His word. Of the story of Israel of old. Of the rites and ceremonies of the law. Of the story and passion of the Saviour Himself. It is also true of the teaching of God in His works. There is something of the “parable” in them all. “They half reveal and half conceal the truth within.” It is only too easy, therefore, in the case of all of them, to miss the truth they convey. We have only not to knock at the door, and the whole treasure is lost!

2. How easily truth may be gained.—What can be really better, for such scholars as we are, than such a method of teaching? To begin with us just as we are, to stir us up thereby to seek more, and to insure thereby that, if we do, we shall find and keep it—is surely not only the only way, but the simplest way too! What more can we ask than that we may be fully enabled to find our way to the light?


Matthew 13:1-9; Matthew 13:18-23. The sower.—The parable is, in our language at least, so universally associated with this name, that it would not readily be recognised under any other designation; but “The Four kinds of Ground,” the title which seems to be in ordinary use among the Germans, is logically more correct, inasmuch as it points directly to the central idea, and expresses the distinctive characteristic. We turn to the ground and the various obstacles which there successively meet the seed and mar its fruitfulness.

I. The wayside (Matthew 13:19).—Behold in one picture God’s gracious offer, man’s self-destroying neglect, and the tempter’s coveted opportunity! The parallel between the material and the moral here is more close and visible in the original than it appears in the English version. But our language is capable, in this instance, like the Greek, of expressing by one phrase equally the moral and the material failure: “Every one that hears the word of the kingdom and does not take it in” (μὴ συνιέντος).

1. The seed is good.—“The word of God is quick and powerful,”—i.e. it “is living, and puts forth energy” (Hebrews 4:12). Like buried, moistened seed, it swells and bursts, and forces its way through opposing obstacles.

2. The fault lies not often, or to a great extent even, in the sower, although his work may have been feebly and unskilfully done.

3. Nor does the cause of failure, in the last resort, lie in the soil.—Believers and unbelievers are possessed of the same nature and faculties.

4. It was the breaking of the ground which caused the difference between the fruitful field and the barren wayside. Those minds on which the good seed has often been thrown, only to be thrown away, may yet yield an increase of a hundredfold to their owner when conviction and repentance shall have rent them open to admit the word of life.

II. The stony ground.—A human heart, the soil on which the sower casts his seed, is in itself, and from the first hard both above and below; but by a little easy culture, such as most people in this land may enjoy, some measure of softness is produced on the surface. Among the affections, when they are warm and newly stirred, the seed speedily springs. Many young hearts, subjected to the religious appliances which abound in our time, take hold of Christ and let Him go again. This, on the one hand, as we learn by the result, was never a true conversion; but neither was it, on the other hand, a case of conscious, intentional deceit. It was real, but it was not thorough.

III. The thorns.—In the application of the lesson this term must be understood not specifically, but generically. In the natural object it indicates any species of useless weed that occupies the ground and injures the growing crop; in the spiritual application it points to the worldly cares, whether they spring from poverty or wealth, which usurp in a human heart the place due to Christ and His saving truth. In two distinct aspects thorns, growing in a field of wheat, reflect as a mirror the kind of spiritual injury which the cares and pleasures of the world inflict when they are admitted into the heart; they exhaust the soil by their roots, and overshadow the corn with their branches. The faculties of the human heart and mind are limited, like the productive powers of the ground. Worldly cares nursed by indulgence into a dangerous strength interpose a veil between the face of Jesus and the opening, trustful look of a longing soul. Fitful glances of sunshine now and then will not bring the fruit to maturity.

IV. The good ground.—While all the ground that was broken, deep and clean in spring and summer, bears fruit in harvest, some portions produce a larger return than others. The picture in this feature is true to nature; and the fact in the spiritual sphere also corresponds. There are diversities in the Spirit’s operation; diversities in natural gifts bestowed on men at first; diversities in the amount of energy exerted by believers as fellow-workers with God in their own sanctification; and diversities, accordingly, in the fruitfulness which results in the life of Christians.—W. Arnot, D.D.

The sower.—I. The first faultiness of soil our Lord specifies is imperviousness.—The proposals made to the wayside hearer suggest nothing at all to him. His mind throws off Christ’s offers as a slated roof throws off hail. You might as well expect seed to grow on a tightly-braced drum-head as the word to profit such a hearer; it dances on the hard surface, and the slightest motion shakes it off. The consequence is it is forgotten.

II. The second faultiness of soil our Lord enumerates is shallowness.—The shallow hearer our Lord distinguishes by two characteristics: he straightway receives the word, and he receives it with joy. The man of deeper character receives the word with deliberation, as one who has many things to take into account and weigh. He receives it with seriousness, and reverence, and trembling, foreseeing the trials he will be subjected to, and he cannot show a light-minded joy.

III. The third faultiness of soil which causes failure in the crop is what is technically known as dirt.—The soil is not impenetrable, nor is it shallow; it is deep, good land, but it has not been cleaned—there is seed in it already. This is a picture of the pre-occupied heart of the rich, vigorous nature, capable of understanding, appreciating, and making much of the word of the kingdom, but occupied with so many other interests, that only a small part of its energy is available for giving effect to Christ’s ideas. The care of this world has been called the poor man’s species of the deceitfulness of riches, and the deceitfulness of riches a variety of the care of this world. Man is possessed of free will, of the power of checking, to some extent, natural tendencies, and preventing natural consequences.

IV. In contrast, then, to these three faults of impenetrability, shallowness, and dirt, we may be expected to do something towards bringing to the hearing of the word a soft, deep, clean soil of heart (see Luke 8:15).—There must be:

1. Honesty.

2. Meditation. “If there is a person, of whatever age, or class, or station, who will not be thoughtful, who will not seriously and honestly consider, there is no doing him any good.” You must let your milk stand if you wish cream. And meditation is a process of mind whose necessary element is the absence of hurry.

3. Patience.—M. Dods, D.D.

Matthew 13:3-9. The word of the kingdom diversely received.—The reason for this parable is to be sought in the moral situation of the hour. The motives must have come from the spiritual composition and condition of the crowd.

1. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross,” etc.
2. The great historical melancholy fact of the Capernaum crisis recorded in John
6., in which the Galilean revival came to a deplorable end. “From that time many of His disciples went back,” etc.
3. The minute particulars of information supplied by the Evangelists as to the circumstances amid which Jesus spake our parable show that the Galilean enthusiasm is at its height, and therefore, that the crisis, the time of reaction, must be near. The crisis, then, is approaching and it is in view of that crisis Jesus speaks the parable of the sower. We shall best learn to discriminate accurately the different classes of hearers by giving close attention to the manner in which they are respectively characterised by our Lord.

I. The wayside hearer hears the word, but does not understand it,—or, to use a phrase which expresses at once the literal and the figurative truth, does not take it in. Thoughtlessness, spiritual stupidity, arising not so much from want of intellectual capacity as from pre-occupation of mind, is the characteristic of the first class. For a type of this class see Luke 12:13.

III. He that received seed into stony places, is he that heareth the word and anon with joy receiveth it. The characteristic of this class is emotional excitability, inconsiderate impulsiveness. If a type of this class is sought for in the Gospel records, it may be found in the man who said unto Jesus “Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest,” and to whom Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes,” etc. The crowd by the lake to which the parable of the sower was spoken was full of such professors. The melancholy history of many hopeful religious movements is this; many converts, few stable Christians; many blossoms, little fruit coming to maturity.

III. He that received the seed among the thorns is so described as to suggest the idea of a double-minded man—the ἀνὴρ δίψυχος of St. James 1:8. This man is neither stupid, like his brother-hearer of the first class, nor a mere man of feeling, like those of the second class. He hears in the emphatic sense of the word, hears both with thought and with feeling, understanding what he hears, and realising its solemn importance. The soil in his case is neither hard on the surface nor shallow; it is good soil so far as softness and depth are concerned. Its one fault (but it is a very serious one) is that it is impure; there are other seeds in it besides those being sown on it, and the result will be two crops struggling for the mastery, with the inevitable result that the better crop will have to succumb. This man has two minds, so to speak; we might almost say he is two men. Of the thorny ground hearer, the man of divided mind and double heart, we have an example in him who came to Jesus and said “Lord I will follow Thee, but first let me,” etc. How many men are wasting their lives at home, who might go forth to a life of abundant fruitfulness in mission fields, were it not for an attachment like that of John Mark for fathers or mothers or native land!

IV. He that receiveth seed into good ground is he that heareth the word and understandeth it. This is inadequate as expressing the idea of a perfect hearer. For the “understandeth” of Matthew, Mark gives “receive” and Luke “keep.” The precise distinction of the perfect hearer, however, is this—that he receives and retains the word alone in his mind. He is characteristically single-minded and whole-hearted in religion. The kingdom of God has the first place in his thoughts and everything else only the second. His motto is taken from the words of the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me.” This is undoubtedly the idea in Luke 8:15. See Christ’s eulogium upon Mary, “She hath wrought a noble work upon Me.” Barnabas, “For he was a good man,” etc. Lydia, “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”—A. B. Bruce, D.D.

Matthew 13:3. The sower.—A slight recess in the hill-side, close upon the plain (Gennesareth), disclosed at once, in detail, and with a conjunction which I remember nowhere else in Palestine, every feature of the great parable. There was the undulating cornfield descending to the water’s edge. There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it, with no fence or hedge to prevent the seed from falling here and there on either side of it, or upon it; itself hard with the constant tramp of horse, and mule, and human feet. There was the “good,” rich soil, which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighbourhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn. There was the rocky ground of the hill-side, protruding here and there through the corn-fields, as elsewhere through the grassy slopes. There were the large bushes of thorn—the “nabk,” that kind of which tradition says that the crown of thorns was woven—springing up like the fruit trees of the more inland parts, in the very midst of the waving wheat.—Dean Stanley.

Matthew 13:4. The wayside.—It represents the case of men whose insensibility to the word is caused by outward things having made a thoroughfare of their natures and trodden them into incapacity to receive the message of Christ’s love. The heavy baggage-waggons of commerce, the light cars of pleasure, merry dancers, and sad funeral processions, have all used that way, and each footfall has beaten the once loose soil a little firmer. We are made insensitive to the gospel by the effect of innocent and necessary things, unless we take care to plough up the path along which they travel, and to keep our spirits susceptible by a distinct effort.—A. Maclaren, D.D.

Matthew 13:5-6. Surface religion.—It is a case of “lightly come, lightly go.” Quick-sprouting things are soon-dying things. A shallow pond is up in waves under a breeze which raises no sea on the Atlantic, and it is calm again in a few minutes. Readily stirred emotion is transient. Brushwood catches fire easily, and burns itself out quickly. Coal takes longer to kindle, and is harder to put out. The persons meant are those of excitable temperament, whose feelings lie on the surface, and can be got at without first passing through the understanding or the conscience.—Ibid.

Matthew 13:1-9. No parable teaches everything.—Paths, rocks, and thorns cannot change. But men can plough up the trodden ways, and blast away the rock, and root out the thorns, and, with God’s help, can open the door of their hearts, that the sower and His seed may enter in. We are responsible for the soil, else His warnings were vain, “Take heed, therefore, how ye hear.”—Ibid.

Matthew 13:10-17. The revealment of the gospel.—

I. The evident necessity of its revealment.

1. The gospel can only benefit us as it is believed.

2. There can be no belief without knowledge.

3. Without a revealment the realities of the gospel could never have been known.

II. The parabolic method of its revealment.

III. The different spiritual results of its revealment.

1. There is a difference in the kind of result.—The gospel ministry is a damning as well as a saving process. It has made millions of Pharaohs.

(1) The gospel benefits by design; it does not injure by design.
(2) The gospel benefits by adaptation; it does not injure by adaptation.
(3) The gospel benefits by Divine influence; it does not injure by Divine influence.
2. There is a difference in the degree.—“Many prophets,” etc. The disciples had a fuller manifestation, and a richer enjoyment of the gospel than the prophets and righteous men of whom Christ speaks.—D. Thomas, D.D.

Matthew 13:10-13. The reason of Christ’s method of teaching.—In answer to the question, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?” Christ replies, “Because it is given unto you to know,” etc. “Therefore speak I,” etc. The reason is, the spiritual obtuseness of sinners. I am aware that many expositors, Olshausen and Doddridge amongst them, interpret the words of our Saviour as meaning that He taught in parables in order to conceal His meaning from His ungodly hearers. I cannot entertain this thought for the following reasons:—

I. The language does not necessarily imply this idea.—He gives parables, not to produce moral obliquity, but because moral obliquity existed.

II. This idea is essentially inconsistent with the nature of parabolic teaching.—The very nature and design of a parable are to make an obscure truth clear—to illustrate.

III. This idea is incompatible with the character and mission of Christ.—Does it comport with His kindness to suppose that He sought to intensify the darkness of the human spirit?—Ibid.

Matthew 13:10. Christ’s method of teaching.—Christ’s method of teaching the people by parables seemed strange in the eyes of His disciples. It was not the method of teaching adopted by the scribes, nor by John the Baptist. It may even seem strange to us; for there is almost an inversion of the order of education and teaching as we are accustomed to see it. We are accustomed to see first the indirect and story teaching, and then the direct instruction. But viewing the two ministries of John the Baptist and our Lord we find the process reversed; from the Baptist we have the direct teaching, from Jesus Christ more picturesque methods. Stranger still is the reason given for the adoption by our Lord of this teaching by parable; the reason is startling and stern, “That hearing they might hear and not understand.” This quite reverses our notions; we should have said probably that the parable was used because it simplified the teaching to the mind of the hearer.

I. We must first fix our thoughts on the parable method of teaching, and discover its advantages.—The true end of teaching is surely to make the mind available in life. It is to make all the powers usable. The true and wise teacher, therefore, is constantly seeking to awaken the thought, the imagination, the will, to co-operate with his efforts. This is indispensable in religious teaching. Here it is absolutely essential that the will and the affections should co-operate with the understanding. “Religion,” says Coleridge, “is the will in the reason, and love in the will.” Compulsion is not only irrelevant but fatal. Take a man who is notoriously avaricious. You wish to rescue him from his yoke of greed. You attempt a direct attack upon his vice; you accuse or you abuse him. You run the risk of arousing his pride. You try an indirect method you select a story of grief or misfortune; you speak of another’s sufferings; he is moved; the stirred heart becomes genial; the opening of the purse follows—you have gained a subscription; you have done more, you have won a human heart. The indirect method carries the greater chance of success. Example, Nathan and David. When the abrupt and direct plan of assault is made, the will is found to be pride-locked and armed for defence. By the indirect process the heart is prepared for surrender; the man is made to co-operate against himself for his own benefit. This was the method which our Lord seems to have most frequently adopted. Almost all His parables are examples of the employment of it; and it was all the more forcible, inasmuch as it followed the direct startling method of John the Baptist. Jesus Christ’s teaching suggested more than it said.

II. It is easy enough to see that to speak by may, because of its very indirectness, be the best way of winning the hearts of men; but what surprises us is to find that the reason stated for the use of parables is apparently the very reverse.—That seeing they might not see, etc. One thing we have seen, that the indirect and parable method of teaching does not diminish the chance of the surrender of the hearer’s heart. On the contrary it seems to be a plan which was most widely successful. If this be the case, the harshness of the words is half gone. The plan was not employed to diminish the opportunity of spiritual illumination. There was nothing in the nature of the parables themselves, which were numerous and varied, to close the mind which was not willingly blind. It is as though the man of avarice listened unmoved to the sad and pathetic story. “He has eyes and sees not,” etc. We have found out how hard human nature can be. We have even unwittingly contributed to harden it more; for every appeal resisted builds a fresh wall against sympathy. Now in all this we have not been at fault. What has been wrong has been the moral sense of him we have appealed to. It is this which must be kept in mind in reading these stern words of the Evangelist. Everything has been tried, the direct and the indirect method; but the heart gives no response, and shows tokens of no surrender. The moral nature of those whom He spoke to closed itself against all the varied appeals. What more could be done? If they resist this strategy (the solemn, the plaintive, the pathetic parable) they are manifested to be those who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not.—Bishop W. B. Carpenter.

The importance of illustrative teaching.—Robert Hall’s criticism on a brother-minister was, “You have no ‘likes’ in your sermons. Christ taught that the kingdom of heaven was like to leaven, like to a grain of mustard seed, etc. You tell us what things are, but never what they are like.”—Metaphors are windows of speech; through them the truth shines, and ordinary minds fail to perceive truth clearly unless it is presented to them through this medium (E. P. Hood). The story, like a float, keeps the truth from sinking; like a nail fastens it in the mind; like the feather of an arrow, makes it strike, and like the barb makes it stick (T. Guthrie, D.D.). When the mental energy is only smouldering in a lukewarm way inside the subject, then you have the commonplace prosaic statement; when the warmth increases you get the clear, strong, impressive statement; but when the glow has thoroughly mastered the mass, and flames all over it, then come the gorgeous images and parables which dwell for ever in the minds of the hearers.—J. Stalker, D.D.

Parables are like the husk which preserves the kernel from the indolent and for the earnest.—Gerlach.

Matthew 13:12. The law of habit.—This is a principle of immense importance, and, like other weighty sayings, appears to have been uttered by our Lord on more than one occasion, and in different connections. As a great ethical principle we see it in operation everywhere, under the general law of habit, in virtue of which moral principles become stronger by exercise, while by disuse, or the exercise of their contraries, they wax weaker, and at length expire. The same principle reigns in the intellectual world, and even in the animal—if not in the vegetable also—as the facts of physiology sufficiently prove. Here, however, it is viewed as a Divine ordination, as a judicial retribution in continual operation under the Divine administration.—D. Brown, D.D.

Matthew 13:13. Seeing but not perceiving.—In Tennyson’s “Maud” we read:—

“I know the way she went Home

with her maiden posy,

For her feet have touched the meadows,

And left the daisies rosy.”

Now an eminent sculptor told me that a still more eminent critic to whom he was talking quoted this line with strong disapproval. “How could the girl’s feet make the daisies rosy?” he asked triumphantly, “it is nonsense!” “Nonsense?” said the sculptor, “it is an exquisite instance of observation! It means that the light feet of the maiden, bending the stems of the daisies, have shown their rosy under-surface. Have you never noticed that the underside of the daisy’s petal passes by beautiful gradations from rose-colour to deep crimson?” “No!” was the astounding answer of the critic.—F. W. Farrar, D.D.

Matthew 13:14. New truth bewildering to some.—Men who have lived in traditional knowledge do not thank you for a new truth. It dazes and confounds their dim vision, which is unsuited to its reception. Their bewilderment at the light is similar to that of the cricket. As the cricket lives chiefly in the dark, so its eyes seem formed for the gloominess of its abode; and you have only to light a candle unexpectedly, and it becomes so dazzled that it cannot find its way back to its retreat.—Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.

Verses 18-23


Matthew 13:19. Which received seed.That was sown (R. V.). A change in the figure quite common among Orientals. It should have been: This is he in whose case the seed was sown by the wayside (Meyer). But there is a deeper meaning in this change. The loss of the seed becomes in reality the loss of one’s own life, just as the seed sown on good soil, so to speak, becomes identified with our personality (Lange). See Matthew 13:23, R.V.


The art of hearing.—We have before us here the Saviour’s own explanation (Matthew 13:18) of the first of His parables at this time. And we find, appropriately enough, that the subject of it is the subject of “hearing.” There are three wrong ways—there is only one right way—of hearing the word. That, in brief, is what His explanation amounts to. The consideration of the three wrong ways will make the consideration of the one right way a comparatively easy proceeding.

I. The first wrong way of hearing may be described as hardly hearing at all. It is hearing without understanding (Matthew 13:19). It is hearing the sound only, and not the sense. To such a “hearer” it matters little what message is sent him. He takes in as much—or rather as little—whatever is said. He is well represented, therefore, by that “wayside” soil which is trodden so hard that the seed which falls on it cannot enter into it. Just so is it of such a hearer, and of the truth which he hears. When all has been said, the truth in question remains outside of his mind. Naturally, therefore, the result of such “hearing” is just nothing at all. No seed that only lies on the surface can germinate or increase. It cannot even take the first step in that vital direction. It can only lie there till one of the birds of the air carries it off, and “devours” it. Even so of that truth, by whomsoever spoken, which does not even enter the mind. Not only, in that condition, can it then do nothing at all; there are influences at work which will soon take away its chance of doing anything in the future (end of Matthew 13:19).

II. The second wrong way of hearing may be described as only hearing in part. It is not in this case, as in the previous one, that nothing at all is received. On the contrary a good deal—and that “straightway”—and even “with joy.”—is received (Matthew 13:20). But it is not so received for all that, but that a good deal more is left out. As it were the pleasant side of the message of the “kingdom,” the peace it offers, the hope it sets forth, the glory it promises are appreciated in full. But the sterner and less alluring side of the question, the probability of “persecution or tribulation arising because of the word,” is not considered as it should be, if considered at all. When this comes about, therefore, as come it must, such a hearer is not prepared for such a stumbling-block in his way. The first consequence is that he is as quickly displeased now (end of Matthew 13:21 R.V. “straightway”) as he had been quickly pleased at the first. And the consequence of that is, that he goes back again wholly from such good as he had. Precisely as happens, in short, where the seed of the sower falls upon one of those “rocky places” where there is “no deepness of earth” (Matthew 13:4-5). The only thing quicker than the subsequent growth of that seed is its still later decay. And the only relic it leaves is a “withered” blade (Matthew 13:6), which tells of what had been hoped at one time.

III. The third wrong way of hearing may be described as that of not hearing in truth. It is indeed, “receiving” the word, but it is also receiving together with it that which is inconsistent therewith. Rather, perhaps, it is not making sufficient room for it by previously casting all such other things out. When the seed of the sower falls into soil in which “the thorns” (Matthew 13:7; Matthew 13:22)—“the thorns” that ought not to be there—are there in germ, if not in anything more, that seems to describe exactly the kind of thing that is meant. Really, in such soil, there is not “room enough” for that seed. It cannot possibly grow there as it should. Precisely so, is it too, with the hearer who does indeed receive the word of God into his heart; but only to find there such things as “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches” ready to grow by its side. Not even the word of God in such a case, can do what it should. It does effect indeed—even so—a good deal for a time. Such a hearer of the word becomes also a doer of it to a certain extent. In this case there would appear to be even the “setting” of fruit. But not anything more. Not the growth of it—not the ripening of it—not the “full corn in the ear” (Mark 4:28). Even the power of the word cannot do this in that pre-occupied soil. There are rival powers there which “choke” even its powers, and cause it to become “unfruitful” at last (end Matthew 13:22).

IV. From these wrong ways of hearing it should be easy now to put together the right way.—The right way is one which escapes the evils of each of these three. It is to hear the sense as well as the sound. It is to hear the whole and not only a part. It is to hear in sincerity, and not in any way in pretence. Also we see, thus, by what results the right way may be known. Not mere sterility, as a matter of course—nor yet “withered” blades only, however abundant—nor yet abortive fruit only, however advanced—prove the ground to be good. Nothing proves this except the actual presence of “something to be reaped.” Not however, that this something, be it observed in conclusion, must always be of the “most.” This seems the comforting lesson with which the parable ends. There are “some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred-fold” in return. Of course, this last, to all true hearts, will be far away best. Of course this “most” will be desired most by every one who “hears” rightly. But even the “less” in this field of the “kingdom,” will not be set on one side. True “fruit” means true life, even if not in greatest abundance. True obedience means true hearing, even if there might have been more. “She hath done what she could” (Mark 14:8).

Verses 24-30


The seeds of error.—The explanation of the last parable is, in part, the explanation of this. It teaches us, e.g. what is meant in this parable by sowing the seed, viz. the dissemination of truth. In the same general way, therefore, it enables us to consider this parable as it stands, and without entering, at present, into that copious explanation of it which was afterwards given to the disciples in private (Matthew 13:36-43). So regarded, it will be found to tell us, first, of a remarkable discovery in the field of the “kingdom”; and secondly, of an equally remarkable decision about it.

I. A remarkable discovery.—A discovery which seems to have caused those who made it to stand still, and cry out, “What is the meaning of this?” For truly serious, in the first place, according to what we are taught, was the nature of the appearance they beheld. It was the appearance of one set of plants where other plants had been sown. More than this, according to the interpretation of some, it was the appearance of a noxious plant instead of a wholesome one. Instead of wheat there was darnel—and that a kind of darnel, it is said, which, when taken into the system, produced vertigo and sickness. Instead of profit, therefore, there was the appearance of loss. Instead of food, the development of poison. Equally serious, in the next place, was the time of this appearance. Not till the grain had been formed in the ear (Matthew 13:26), because not till then, so it is said, could the distinction be made—not, therefore, till the harvest was approaching, and so till long after all possibility of prevention was over, was this discovery made. But most serious of all, in the third place, was the origin to which it pointed. That this appearance should be due to any action on the part of the “householder” himself, was wholly out of the question. He had never put anything whatever but “good seed” in his field. The only possible way, therefore, of accounting for this appearance was by supposing that an adversary had caused it. This was the conclusion of the householder himself, immediately that he heard of it. And this is the point, therefore, the great point, on which our final thoughts are to be fixed. In the householder’s own property, where he himself had never put anything but that which was good, someone utterly hostile to him had put that which was evil. “An enemy hath done this” (Matthew 13:28).

II. A remarkable decision.—This was remarkable, first, because a far more obvious course had first presented itself to men’s minds. That first idea had been to go at once and root out the bad seed. To the servants of the householder this appeared the most natural thing in the world. If “an enemy” hath done this, shall not we who are friends go and undo it at once? Therefore it is that they suggest it at once to the householder himself. “Wilt thou then”—that being the case—“that we go and gather them up?” Nothing appears to them, in the circumstances, a more proper proceeding. All they wait for is leave to adopt it. All the more remarkable, therefore, in the next place, is the decisive way in which this proposal of theirs is put to one side. The thing proposed by his servants, on the one hand, is not to be attempted by them at all. “He saith” unto them “nay.” It is as though he would prevent them from taking even a first step in that line. It is not to be attempted by them, on the other hand, because of the fact that such an endeavour would lead, inevitably, to more evil than good. It might, or it might not, remove some of the darnel. With eyes such as theirs, with hands such as theirs, whatever the excellence of their purpose, it would certainly eradicate some of the wheat. What they are to do for the present, therefore—all they are to do for the present—is to let the field remain as it is. Let “both” kinds continue to “grow together” as they do now. And even hereafter—this is what he says to them lastly—when the time of harvest shall have arrived, and with it, therefore, the time for separating the evil from the good without any fear of mistake, and of binding them together in separate “bundles” for those widely different final uses, for which they are respectively meant—he does not mean that separation to be effected by those he is speaking to now. “In the time of harvest, I will say to my reapers”—to my reapers, then, and therefore not to you now—let this division be made. Can anything be more decisive from beginning to end? The parable, thus viewed, may very well teach us:—

1. To moderate our expectations.—What the Saviour thus foretold, and thus found true also in His own case (John 6:70), will be found true in all others. Whether we look at the church at large, or at any particular branch of it, no matter how large on the one hand, or how select on the other, it will never be without “tares.” Often and often their presence is a surprise to the servants. It is never so to the Master.

2. To limit our efforts.—If He permits the “tares” to be sown, let us permit them to grow. Let us refrain, at any rate, from violent efforts to remove them from the field. That is not the task for our hands. Nor yet for our time. To attempt it is only to do harm to the wheat.

3. To encourage our faith.—If the “tares” are never absent all the more wonder at the amount of good that exists. If things are always so mingled all the higher the wisdom and all the greater the power which preserves that which is good! In this sense the very imperfection of the church proves the truth of its message!


Matthew 13:24-30. The parable of the tares.—

I. The origination of the kingdom of God, or of Christian society, in its widest sense, is likened to an act of sowing. Seed does not, as in the former parable, stand for the truth of the gospel, but for the men who receive it. At first one might suspect that our Lord is only playing with the emblem in an arbitrary fashion, making it mean just what He chooses. Not so. The wheat plants are just the seed in a changed form. Somewhat parallel is it with the new life and character that are produced upon the soil of human nature by the accepted truth of God’s gospel. That new life-character in a Christian man is morally a product of the truth he has taken into his being. The place which the Son of man has destined for the ripening place of His plants, i.e. His “field,” is the world. Few words in Scripture have been more stumbled over than this. Let us take it in two distinct senses, both of them, no doubt, intended.

1. The field for the kingdom of Christ is, in extent, the whole world of mankind, and not the limited, bounded area of a single people.
2. In a second sense as well, is the world Christ’s field, wherein His precious plants are to grow and ripen. He sows them not merely in all the wide world, but in this present world, such as it is. That is but a sickly idea of Christianity which treats it like a hothouse plant. But there is a hidden night-sower too. This illustration answers perfectly to the character which Scripture ascribes to the originator of human sin. From the first he is represented as a circumventor of God’s fair designs; a spoiler and blaster of what was created very good; a sower of weeds among corn. For it is characteristic of evil that it can make nothing to profit; can only unmake, mar, and waste. Now the setting up on earth of Christ’s kingdom gave occasion to a new manner of mischief-making, the point of which lay in its mimicry of the new work of God. This was men with the appearance of Christians, speaking Christian words, and growing up inside the Christian community, hardly to be distinguished from others, who yet were in their real nature, men of an unchanged, evil heart, and yielded at the last bitter or unwholesome fruits. It is in perfect keeping, also, with the whole of Christ’s teaching, thus to represent human character in its great contrasts of good and bad, as no isolated spiritual phenomenon, but as somehow reclining against a superhuman background. A Spirit of grace and light regenerating men, if they will, by the word of truth; no less, another spirit of darkness and malice, misleading men, if they will, to the service of a lie. The revelation of this contact of an upper and lower spiritual world with human character, has done nothing to solve the old, dark, hopeless mystery of evil. The question of the servants in the parable, is just the last and deepest question with which the reason of man has at all times approached the eternal God: “Lord, didst not Thou sow good seed in Thy field? Whence then hath it tares?” All we can know, and for practical uses need to know is, “An enemy hath done it.” “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”

II. The progress of the kingdom of God.—The interest of the parable passes swiftly on to the close of the history. All that lies between is, so to say, natural development, and, therefore, is in this parable touched with a light finger. What we do gather concerning this growing time, is only the negative lesson that it must be “let alone.” Christ meant the juxtaposition of good men with bad to continue in this world. As a religious community, the church is bound, no doubt, to expel the openly wicked and unchristian from her own membership. That is undoubted from other texts. But she is to strive after no unnatural or forced separation from society.

III. The close of the kingdom of God.—The weight of the passage, as a lesson to individuals in the kingdom of God, lies in the awful severance of false from true at last by unerring celestial servants of the King. The Master’s objection to human weeders was simply that they could not be trusted to discern between the evil and the good. How true has that been found!—J. O. Dykes, D.D.

The parable of the tares.—I. The sowing.—The field originally had no seed in it; it could not produce any seed; it was necessary to sow the good seed in it. In like manner goodness is not innate to human nature; there are not inhering in it any germs of goodness.

1. “He that soweth good seed is the Son of man;” there is not one sound seed in your nature, but it has been deposited there by the Son of man.

2. “The field is the world.” Within the church discipline must be upheld; the bad, so far as practicable, must be separated from the good, believers from unbelievers. That is often taught us in the New Testament; the Apostles cast men out of the communion of the saints. It is about the world, and not about the church, that Jesus Christ is speaking. He does not say, Do not cast bad men out of the church; but, Do not cast them out of the world.

3. “The good seed are the children of the kingdom.” According to the preceding parable, the good seed is the word of God; according to this parable, the good seed are the children of the kingdom. The Saviour here contemplates the seed in its full growth. It is quite right to say, the acorns are the seed of the forest. But it is equally right to say, the acorns are the trees of the forest. In the first stage the good seed are the good thoughts sown in your mind, the good principles instilled into your nature; but in the last stage the good seed are the good men.

4. But another is sowing. “While men slept,” etc. “The tares are the children of the wicked one.” The sowing here, too, begins with evil thoughts and ends with evil men.

5. “The enemy that sowed them is the devil.” Good is not indigenous to our nature, it has been implanted in us by the Son of man. Neither is evil indigenous to our nature, it has been sown in us by the devil.

II. The growing (Matthew 13:26).—The difference between the wheat and the tares became manifest only after a period of growth. “The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?” etc. Here is brought into proximity the human method and the Divine method of dealing with sin. Good men and bad are wonderfully mingled in the world; you cannot destroy the bad without seriously damaging the good. They are mingled in the family; you cannot kill the father without hurting the mother. They are mingled in society; you cannot shoot the tenant without injuring the landlord, etc.

III. The reaping.—“Let them grow until the harvest.” “The harvest is the end of the world.” Good will continue to grow better, and evil to grow worse, till the harvest time. I do not know that evil will continue to grow in bulk, that is, by the multiplication of bad men. I hope not. But it will grow in intensity, in bitterness, in subtlety, in poisonousness (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10). When good and evil shall have fully ripened, then will begin the process of separation: “The Son of man shall send forth His angels,” etc. “Bind them in bundles and burp them.” Is there here an intimation that in eternity sinners shall congregate together according to their sinful propensities—that misers shall be gathered to misers, drunkards to drunkards, adulterers to adulterers?—J. C. Jones, D.D.

Matthew 13:25. The tares.—No weed is so troublesome to the Syrian farmers as a kind of wild rye-grass, which they call zuwân. It grows abundantly in cornfields, and is so extremely like wheat in its earlier stages that even a farmer’s eye cannot tell the difference with certainty till it is shot. Then the peasants know it by its blacker heads. By that time, however, they find it hazardous to pull it up by hand, because its rootlets are too closely twisted about those of the corn. When harvest comes it is necessary to pick out the stalks with care, and finally to winnow its pickles from the seed; because this weed is really a bitter intoxicant poison, so strong that even a pickle or two, ground among the flour, will cause in the eater giddiness and nausea. One sees what a truly Oriental refinement of revenge it would be deliberately to oversow a neighbour’s field with such a weed the night after he had been sowing his wheat. One sees how exquisitely this atrocious piece of mischief sets forth the malice and cunning of the devil.—J. O. Dykes, D.D.

Sowing tares among the wheat.—We are not without this form of malice nearer home. Thus, in Ireland, I have known an outgoing tenant, in spite at his ejection, to sow wild oats in the fields which he was leaving. These ripening and seeding themselves before the crops in which they were mingled, it became next to impossible to get rid of them.—Archbishop Trench.

Matthew 13:27. Ministerial watchfulness.—Our Saviour here shows the servants’ care; to teach us that ministers ought to be watchful. Wherein doth this watchfulness consist?

I. In a daily watchful visiting of their fields and flocks.

II. In a rejoicing when the wheat thrives, i.e. when they see the Lord to bless and prosper His own word and give an increase to that which they sow.

III. In a sorrow for the springing up of tares.—These servants come (and certainly not without grief) and tell their master that there are tares amongst the corn. Thus faithful ministers, when they see errors, heresies, hypocrisies, and formality in religion to begin to spring and spread itself among their flocks, must seek unto God, and do all that lies in their power to redress it.—R. Ward.

Matthew 13:28-30. Human intolerance and Divine patience.—I. What men would do.—“Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?” It should always be remembered that there is an arrogance of virtue, as well as the sauciness and presumption of vice. Men may have pure intentions, but their proposed methods of giving effect to their intentions may corrupt them. It is of the essence of pride and effrontery, for men to propose to do God’s work in their own way.

II. What would be the result of such impatient action?—“Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them.” Men may not only do evil that good may come, but good, and evil may be the result, and, if judged by this, may be condemned as tares. The intermixture of good and evil by the conditions of life and the relations and institutions of society is a problem and a difficulty. If we could cut down evil as the mower cuts the grass, if its forms all grew together, the field of the world could soon be cleared. But this intermixture of good and evil forbids rashness and haste. Besides, every man, perhaps, is a tare to some other man in some aspects of his character. None are all wheat in human judgment, and not so even in fact. If we would remove all the tares, we must remove one another off the face of the earth, or consign one another to certain conventional hells, social, political, or sectarian. The truth is, though we are no better than we should be, yet we are unquestionably better than we think each other to be. Hence comes the grand function of the church—preferring one another in love, nurturing the feeblest virtues, feeding babes in Christ, helping each other on to the perfect stature of men in Christ Jesus.

III. What the Master does.—“Let both grow together until the harvest.” How Godlike is this large patience, like the firmament of heaven, serene and vast, while the storm of men’s passions rages beneath. And yet the very largeness and fulness of this patience irritate us. There are certain crimes committed by certain men which perhaps no human law can touch, and we feel as if God ought to come out of His hiding-place and smite or brand the criminal as in the case of Cain. But if the man we think of was branded, he would perhaps be the wrong man, or, not knowing the whole circumstances of the case, we might overwhelm the most urgent extenuations.—Jos. Shaw.

Verses 31-33


Matthew 13:31. Mustard seed.—It is disputed whether the allusion is to the Sinapis or common mustard plant, or to the Salvadora Persica of European botanists. Dean Plumptre suggests that the name was probably used widely for any plant that had the pungent flavour of mustard. Dr. W. M. Thomson remarks that the mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds which the husbandman was accustomed to sow, while the plant, when full grown, was larger than any other herb in his garden (see R.V., “greater than the herbs”). Of the Salvadora Persica Dr. Royle says: “The nature of the plant is to become arboreous, and thus it will form a large shrub, or a tree, twenty-five feet high, under which a horseman may stand, when the soil and climate are favourable. It produces numerous branches and leaves, under which birds may and do take shelter, as well as build their nests; and its seeds are used for the same purposes as mustard.” Proverbial sayings of the Rabbins which take the mustard seed as the representative of smallest objects are collected by Wetstein.


The growth of truth.—These two parables are regarded by some persons as a kind of counteractive to the preceding two. In the parable of the sower we are warned not to expect fruit from every description of soil. In the parable of the tares we are taught that there may be evil fruit even where good fruit is produced. What we seem now taught is that, even so, there is another side to the case. Truth will grow and the gospel prevail, notwithstanding these drawbacks. This will be the case, first, in the world. This will be the case, next, in men’s hearts. So (with many) we understand the two parables now before us.

I. In the world.—On this point the parable of the “mustard seed” is thought to instruct us the most. The truth of the gospel has already been compared to a seed. In that comparison there are more than one “seeds of hope,” as it were. There is one such, e.g., in what we see of the nature of seed, specially of such a seed as that specified now. Proverbially small as the “mustard seed” was, we yet see in it, as we see in all other seed, a thing meant to increase. We see in this seed, indeed, a thing meant to increase in a proverbially remarkable way. So much so, that, in few cases is there a greater difference in magnitude between beginning and end. Witness what was true about it in connection with the “birds of the air.” Not improbably only such eyes as theirs could see it at first. Afterwards even whole flocks of them could find shelter in its branches. That was an exact picture of what was to be true of gospel truth in the world. Utterly insignificant as it might appear at first amongst other influences in the world, it would so grow in time that many of those other influences would be glad of its protection at last. This is to be true, also—here is another ground of hope—from the very nature of growth. How does the mustard seed grow in the ground? Only, as it were—apart from Divine influence—through that which belongs to itself. Certainly it owes nothing, in this way, to the wisdom, or skill, or might of the hand which “casts it” into the ground. All the materials, on the contrary, necessary for its increase, it collects for itself. All the energies, also, necessary for assimilating and transmuting that which it collects, it contains in itself. Given only the soil, in fact, and the requisite heat and proper humidity, and that tiny seed will ultimately build itself up into its farthest subsequent “growth.” And even so is it, again, with that truth of God of which that seed is a figure. God’s creative hand has given it such intrinsic force that it is able to “grow of itself” (cf. Mark 4:28). And nothing is wanting, therefore, on man’s part, except to give it the opportunity for so doing. A great encouragement, indeed, when we remember the magnitude of the task which it has to accomplish; and a sure ground of confidence among all the difficulties and hindrances of the case.

II. In men’s hearts.—Here the other parable, that of the leaven, is considered to teach us the most. And a new figure is supposed to be used because both a new locality and new exigencies are here referred to. A previous parable (Matthew 13:18-23) showed us what were the chief obstacles to the growth of truth in men’s hearts, viz. want of attention, want of consideration, want of thorough sincerity. In this parable we seem taught how that truth itself is calculated to overcome them. For what does “leaven” do, when “hid” as here, in a collection of meal of the ordinary amount of “three measures”? It begins at once to turn the portion next it into that which is identical with itself. And, having so begun, it goes on, naturally, to do the same in the rest of the “lump,” working through all, and by all, everywhere, till the whole is leavened. The word of God is calculated to do just the same with regard to man’s heart. Once “hid” there, there is a power about it which tends to assimilate all it finds there to itself; and to do this, also, in an increasing degree, till it has assimilated all to itself. And that, also, whatever the nature of the “hand” which “hid” it therein. This is thought to be the reason why we are told here, finally, that the “leaven” was employed by a “woman”—the usual agent to be employed in all cases of this kind. The thing, in a word, for our thoughts to fix on is the “leaven” itself. “The entrance of Thy Word giveth light” (Psalms 119:130).

If these interpretations of these two parables are accepted, one cannot but admire the wonderful way in which experience has fulfilled them.

1. In the world.—Every record of sustained missionary effort has illustrated the parable of the mustard seed. Most of all has the history of the church at large. What was the gospel when this parable was spoken? In the eyes of the world a thing too small to be seen. What is it now? With all drawbacks, with all rivalries, with all corruptions and treacheries, the mightiest force upon earth.

2. In the heart.—The story of the “leaven” has been the story of every converted soul from the first. “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). That has been the assimilating energy which has wholly “leavened” the “lump” (cf. Psalms 119:11; Psalms 37:31).


Matthew 13:31-33. Parables of the mustard seed and the leaven.—We are now to see Christianity from the inside, as a hidden life which must put forth its own indwelling strength, and make its own way in the world. A little attention to the two emblems before us will show that this is the central idea common to both. Yet each presents that truth on a different side.

1. The parable of the mustard seed.—When our Lord first spoke of seed He meant by it the word of God. Next, He used it for those men themselves in whom God’s word quickens a religious life. Now you have, instead of numerous and separate corn-seeds in the field, one single seed only, which bears the many branches of God’s great kingdom upon a single stem, to be nurtured from one root. By this last modification of the emblem, are we not carried down to the ultimate fact that, though Christians are many, they are but one after all in the secret source of their life? That the kingdom of the church is a unity springing from the solitary Seed-corn who flung Himself into this world’s soil, and died that He might bear upon Himself the entire spiritual fruitage of humanity as a vine bears shoots and grapes? Here we have, at least, one beautiful and suggestive lesson in the first parable, which is absent or less obtrusive in the other. For the lump of dough, even when leavened, though it may be made into one loaf, possesses no such living unity as belongs to a plant. We measure roughly with the eye the power of growth which resides in a plant by the disproportion we discover betwixt the smallness of the seed and the largeness of the perfect plant. Now of this the mustard formed an excellent, familiar instance. On this point of comparison rests the stress of the parable. Christianity is not only a creation of the Saviour’s own life, it is the work and monument of the most extraordinary spiritual force we know.

II. The parable of the leaven.—Both parables represent progress; but in the mustard seed progress means growth, in the leaven it means change. Again, we have a small beginning and a large result. The real point of consequence is the alteration of the mass into a new character through a foreign substance introduced into the heart of it. What our attention is now to be fixed upon is, that the gospel works upon human society, not merely grows up within it. It grows by altering and assimilating what it finds. It is a regenerating principle, transforming into its own character the nature and the lives of men. One can readily see how a system so many-sided as the kingdom of God should be incapable of exhaustive treatment under any single emblem. Yet the use of this particular emblem must strike us as strange. For it was very closely associated in a Jew’s mind, not with grace but with sin. How came our Lord to employ the same figure which had for ages set forth the permeating power of sin, to set forth the permeating power of grace? Was it for this reason that simply to cast out the old leaven, were that possible, would be inadequate? The gospel is not a merely negative process. There is a new leaven as well as an old. There is need for the new to undo and reverse the action of the old.


1. The source of Christian life is not in me, it is not in my fellow Christian; it is in the Root that beareth both of us.
2. The life of Christ, if it is to do its work upon us, must do it in the way of change and overcoming.
3. It is by individual effort and personal influence that the blessing spreads.—J. O. Dykes, D.D.

Matthew 13:31-32. Rise and progress of the church.—

I. Compare the insignificance of Christianity at first.

1. Unostentatious worship.
2. Simple teaching.
3. Social position of Apostles.
4. Small number of disciples.

II. Careful planting of Christianity.

1. A single seed taken.
2. Designedly sown.
3. In a chosen place.

III. Rapid growth of Christianity.—See history of church in first three or four centuries.

IV. Phenomena consequent thereupon.—Birds come.

1. Men who first opposed come for their own ends.
2. Men for their salvation.
3. Christians lodge there, and draw others, as singing birds attract by their song.—J. C. Gray.

Matthew 13:33.Leaven.—

I. The working of evil.—As our Lord’s eye travelled over the field of common life it rested on one phenomenon, which, habitual and ordinary as it was, nevertheless had a look in it of something abnormal and sinister—the working of leaven. This did not seem at first sight to belong to the more regular processes of nature. Man’s imagination had been long struck here by a likeness to something dark and ominous and evil—this strange disturbance into which the natural substances are thrown by the arrival of this alien matter. What did it express? Was it healthy? Was it not typical, rather, of disease and corruption? It looked so uncanny, so uncomfortable. This mysterious tumult—surely, men said, here is the very picture of what we mean by the nature of sin. They might use it, indeed, for the homeliest affairs, but still it had become to them a type of evil; its working seemed to embody the dreadful character of the mystery of evil, so proverbially it had a sinister significance, and the Bible always, with this one exception, uses it with this meaning. “Know ye not,” saith St. Paul, “that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” So he spoke as if he detected in the Corinthian church the germ of some hateful growth—that sin which they had moving in their midst as a focus of fermentation, a spot of disease spreading and festering till its restless irritation, its feverish energy would be felt everywhere. “Do ye not know well how a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” Or, again, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” So our Lord Himself used the metaphor. Leaven would obviously image that working of the spirit of the Pharisees, that spirit which so insidiously crept in unseen within the very heart of goodness, within the very core of the moral will, and thence it sent its noxious, turbid, infected motions, till, like an evil possession, it permeated the entire man. Beware of that leaven. And then how deeply was this impression intensified by the sacred memory of the Jews’ great feast of deliverance, the Feast of the Passover. There, at that hour of high thanksgiving, in grateful remembrance of the redemption that once for all brought them up out of the darkness of Egypt, the Jew was summoned year after year, to cast out of his house every fragment of the evil leaven that recalled the black days of sin and servitude. Such was the Jew’s natural memory of leaven, and we can well understand what force it would lend to St. Paul’s appeal to this ancient feeling as he bade those Corinthians “Purge out the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened,” etc. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Leaven was popularly, was instinctively, a metaphor that suggested the mystery of iniquity, the working of evil.

II. The beginning of good.—But our Lord, as His eyes rested on its familiar use, as He caught sight of this or that woman inserting the little piece of sour dough into two or three large measures of meal, saw a symbol, a type which He might use for the portrait of His own kingdom. This, you say, is the well-known way in which evil creeps. Well, it is a strangely effectual way, it is typically complete; why not turn it to good use?

III. The leaven in the church.—If we turn our eyes to what claims to embody and represent the kingdom of heaven, we need again and again to recur to this parable. For here, too, there is such a huge mass of matter involved that has suffered no change to pass over it; it lies there within the church, sluggish and heavy. How little the surface of this church speaks of the spiritual thrill that is alive within it; how much of it is blindly unconscious of the secret it enshrines! God can be patient as the woman that watches the three measures of meal. A little leaven will at last, if you give it time, leaven the whole lump. Christ is our leaven. That is our sole security, and that security is alsolute.—Canon H. Scott-Holland.

Leaven as a symbol of Christianity.—

I. Christianity is really alive.—“Careful investigation has shown that the process of fermentation entirely depends upon the presence and growth of certain living organisms forming the ferment” (Roscoe). Christianity is itself a living, breathing presence, not a mere dull, dead thing; a life not a book; a Person, and that Person our Friend and Saviour, our Reconciliation and our Rest, our Hope and our Victory. The rule of God is not like a set of parchment laws stored in the archives of a government library; not like a telephone dependent upon the skill and activity of the worker; not like an empire directed by an absentee ruler; no it is like leaven, it is alive.

II. Christianity is at work as well as alive. It is characteristic of leaven to show an almost insatiable greed of activity. It is a type of stupendous increase. “The globular or oval corpuscles which float so thickly in the yeast as to make it muddy, though the largest are not more than one two-thousandth of an inch in diameter, and the smallest may measure less than one seven-thousandth of an inch, are living organisms. They multiply with great rapidity by giving off minute buds, which soon attain the size of their parent, and then either become detached or remain united, forming compound globules. Yeast will increase indefinitely when grown in the dark” (Huxley). In no point is the Teacher’s simile better sustained by facts than in the unspeakable and irrepressible activity of the gospel. It is a living force.

III. Christianity, like leaven, works in a congenial and much assisting sphere.—It is hid in meal, the material which has an affinity for it and upon which it is specially fitted to act. The leaven is placed where it is wanted, where it can work, and where it can work with success. Leaven is not better suited to work in meal than Christ in men’s hearts for their salvation.

IV. The most distinguishing feature of leaven is that it leavens the meal in the midst of which it is placed.—So the most characteristic effect of Christianity is that it christianises men; it assimilates them to Christ by filling them with the life of Christ. He puts His life into each part of a man.

1. The life of His thoughts into his thinking.

2. The life of His love into his heart.

3. The life of His righteousness into his conscience.

4. The life of His obedience into his will.

V. The leaven moreover is hidden in the meal, and all the work it does, it does secretly.—Christ’s best, most real, and most powerful work is always unseen.

VI. But it advances victoriously and totally.—“Till the whole is leavened.” It is so in:

1. The individual.
2. Nations. Christ speaks of a woman as putting the leaven into the meal. Does He thereby indicate that Christianity is to be propagated by the winning forces of tenderness, and sympathy, and fulness of grace, so characteristic of woman, rather than by the rougher forces of this world, the sharpness of swords and the strength of States?—John Clifford, D.D.

Similitudes used in opposite senses.—The appropriation by Christ to His kingdom of a similitude which had previously been applied in an opposite sense, may be illustrated by many parallel examples in the Scriptures. Of these, as far as I know, the different and opposite figurative significations of the serpent are the most striking and appropriate. A similar example occurs in the parable of the unjust steward; it teaches that the skill of the wicked in doing evil should be imitated by Christians in doing good (W. Arnot, D.D.). In different passages the lion is used as a figure of Satan, but also of Christ; the serpent as a figure of the enemy, but also of the wisdom needful to the Apostles; birds as a figure of believing trustfulness, but also of the devil catching away the Word.—J. P. Lange, D.D.

Reformation from within.—There are two ways in which you may revolutionise any country or society. You may either pull down all the old forms of government, or you may fill them with men of a different spirit. A watch stops, and somebody tells you it needs new works, but the watchmaker tells you it only needs cleaning. A machine refuses to work, and people think the construction is wrong, but the skilled mechanic pushes aside the ignorant crowd, and puts all to rights with a few drops of oil. “Your bread is unwholesome,” says the public to the baker, and he says, “Well, I’ll send you loaves of a new shape;” but the woman of the parable follows the wiser course of altering the quality of the bread.—M. Dods, D.D.

Inwardness.—The soul of all improvement is the improvement of the soul.—H. Bushnell, D.D.

Christianity as leaven.—Sir Bartle Frere speaking of the gradual change wrought by Christianity in India, says in regard to religious innovations in general, “They are always subtle in operation, and generally little noticeable at the outset in comparison with the power of their ultimate operation.”

Verses 34-43


Matthew 13:35. Fulfilled.—The quotation illustrates, much in the same way as those in Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17, St. Matthew’s peculiar way of dealing with the prophetic language of the Old Testament. He found the word “parable” at the opening of a psalm (Psalms 78:2). The psalm itself was in no sense predictive of the coming Christ and has never been classed among the Messianic psalms, but was simply an historical survey of God’s dealings with Israel from the days of the Exodus to those of David. But the occurrence of the word was enough for him. Here was one whose form of teaching answered to that which the Psalmist had described, who might claim the Psalmist’s words as his own; and excluding, as he did, the idea of chance from all such coincidences, he could use even here the familiar formula, “that it might be fulfilled” (Plumptre).


The triumph of truth.—Jesus still continues here to “speak unto the multitudes in parables”; and in parables only—much as had been predicted of Him a long time before (Matthew 13:34-35). This makes all the more conspicuous what we are told of Him next, viz. that when His “disciples” asked Him for it, He gave them a full explanation of the previous parable of the tares. It is this explanation that we have now to consider. We shall find that it brings out into even clearer light than before, both that great trial, on the one hand, and that greater triumph, on the other, of which our previous consideration of the parable itself made us aware.

I. The trial.—The trial involved in the present mixed condition of things in the field of the kingdom (Matthew 13:26; Matthew 13:30). The special greatness of this is shown, first, by the great dignity of the Sower. “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man” (Matthew 13:37). Wherever the truth of the gospel is proclaimed, it is proclaimed in reality by Himself. It is of His person, His work, His death that it speaks. It is in His name, and by His authority that its message is given. And it is with the view of accomplishing His gracious purposes that its gracious offers are made. Great is the trial, therefore, to His faithful servants when they see falsehood prevailing instead, and efforts being made, and made successfully, to teach what is contrary to His truth. Only to think—they say—that the work of the Master Himself should be apparently nullified thus! The greatness of the trial is to be seen, next, in the greatness of the arena. “The field is the world” (Matthew 13:38)—the whole world—the whole “religious world,” as we are accustomed to speak—including in it, therefore, all those “who profess and call themselves Christians,” and amongst whom alone we can speak with propriety of the “seed” being “sown.” This is the vast arena—this the full extent of it—which is thus evilly affected. Wherever there is the “wheat,” there is the “darnel” as well. Lastly, the trial is greatest of all because of the greatness of the actual evil itself. Who are these that are to be found in this “field” thus “growing together”? The “sons of the kingdom”; the “sons of the evil one;” those “sown” by the Saviour; those “sown by the devil;” those that are finally to “shine” as the sun; those that cause stumbling and do iniquity—in a word, those that are just such as ought not to be there. Here is the crowning aggravation of all. Where the Saviour Himself meant the light to be, there is blackest darkness instead!

II. The triumph.—The peculiar greatness of this shall be seen, at the last, in what is to become then of the evil. On the one hand, it is to be entirely removed. All that now “causes stumbling and does iniquity” shall be gone. At the appointed time—the-time of the “harvest,” the “end of the world”—the appointed persons—the “reapers,” the “angels”—shall “come forth”—to do at last, and effectually, their appointed work in this line; and shall “gather out,” then, of the whole “kingdom” all that ought not to be there (Matthew 13:40). On the other hand the evil in question is to be so disposed of then, that it can never come back. So far is quite plain. It shall all have gone to that which is spoken of as “the furnace of fire.” It shall be found only where there is the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42). Never, therefore, shall the “good”—whatever be that which is meant here concerning the “evil”—be troubled by it again (cf. Zechariah 14:0 end Matthew 13:21). Also, the greatness of the triumph is to be seen, finally, in what is to become then of thegood.” How bright their lot is to be at that time! “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun” (cf. Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23). How exalted their lot! “Shine forth in the kingdom” (cf. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 20:6). How blessed their lot! “In the kingdom of their Father”—known then as His children indeed, because “made” visibly “like” to His Son (1 John 3:2). On the one hand, the total absence of all evil shall contribute much to this great consummation (Revelation 21:27). On the other, the full presence of God in Christ shall for ever complete it” (Revelation 22:3).

Here is, therefore, the “patience and faith of the saints.” Here we see how we should look upon many of the perplexities of the present, viz:—

1. As so many hopes in disguise.—One reason why they are tolerated now, is because they are to be so completely obliterated in the future. They are like those mists of the morning which only show that the sun has not come yet to his strength. No sensible man gives up his journey because he sees them on the mountains. Experience teaches him rather to expect in consequence a brighter noon when it comes.

2. As so many warnings.—Who that thinks over it can really suppose that the present mingled condition of things in the kingdom of God should be intended to continue? What can it be but something borne with, and that with much difficulty, for a time? In the very nature of things, in such a field the time of harvest must come. When it does come, what can it lead to but discrimination and separation? And when the separation has been once effected what do we know of—what can we even think of—that shall cause it to be ever reversed?


Matthew 13:34-35. Christ the Revelation.—Christ the Revealer of all secrets.

I. Of those of God.
II. Of humanity.
III. Of the history of the kingdom of God.
IV. Of the kingdom of heaven.
J. P. Lange, D.D.

Matthew 13:39. The reaping time.—

I. The fact announced—End of the world. Its:

1. Certainty.
2. Reasonableness.
3. Importance.
4. Grandeur.

II. The figure employed.

1. Human actions are the seed—prolific.
2. Life is the seed-time—sowing deeds.
3. Judgment is the harvest—“To every seed his own body.”—Pulpit Germs.

The devil.—Yes, Jesus says, in dry clear words, “The enemy that sowed them is the devil.” But surely there is not any devil? Who says that? The Son of God, the mouth of eternal truth, who knows the realm of spirits even as He knows this visible world, who is the highest Reason and the deepest Wisdom, yea, even Omniscience itself, He believes it. He holds it reasonable to believe in it. He teaches what He believes. Dost thou know it better than He, thou short-sighted being, thou dust of yesterday, thou child of error and ignorance? He says it, and therefore it is eternal truth. “But is it not intended to be taken figuratively?” Well, suppose it were meant figuratively, we can only comprehend the figures of actually existing things, and the figurative representation of the devil would imply His real being; but here, in the text, the speech is not figurative; the expression stands not among pictures and parables, but in the interpretation of a picture and a parable.—Fred. Arndt.

Matthew 13:43. Hearing.—Whence comes it that there are so many hearers, who are neither changed nor benefited, nor edified by the word? Certainly, it proceeds from hence, because they do not endeavour to prepare their hearts. For:

1. Without meditation before we come into the house of God, we can have no true reverence, neither conceive of the word as the word of God.
2. Without preparation there can be no endeavour to profit by that which we hear, nor labour to digest it and imprint it strongly in our memories.

3. Without prayer there can be no hope of the co-operation of the Holy Spirit (without whose assistance we can do nothing), because we do not awake and stir Him up (2 Timothy 1:6); yea, we are unworthy of His aid if we will not beg it, for, by a neglect of prayer, we seem to think that He is not worth asking for.

4. For such a contempt and neglect God is incensed, and in His just anger hardens such a hearer more and more, making the word a means to harden and not to soften him.—Richard Ward.

Hearers.—How many sorts of hearers are there? Many sorts, viz:—

1. Unwilling and constrained hearers.—Who only are compelled to hear.

2. Treacherous hearers.—Who hear that they may learn something whereby they may entrap him whom they hear. Thus the Herodians heard Christ.

3. Scoffing and taunting hearers.—Thus some heard Paul (Acts 17:18; Acts 17:32).

4. Malevolent hearers.—Who pervert all things they hear, wresting them to their own private senses; yea, are angry when the word reproves them, and tax the minister with malice, as though all his reprehensions proceeded from spleen or envy.

5. Blind hearers.—Who understand no more than David’s idols (Psalms 115:6; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

6. Proud hearers.—Who are puffed up with their own wisdom, like the Pharisees, who thought they knew so much that Christ could teach them no more than they knew.

7. Sinful hearers.—Who are so hindered and entangled by their sins that they cannot hear anything which crosseth or opposeth their sins.

8. Sluggish hearers—Who hear, but neither remember nor practise what they hear.—Ibid.

Verses 44-52


Matthew 13:47. Net.—The reference is to the large drag-net or seine, [σαγήνη—hence sagena (Vulgate) and English sean or seine]. One end of the seine is held on the shore, the other is hauled off by a boat and then returned to the land (Carr).

Matthew 13:52. Instructed unto the kingdom of heaven.—The new law requires a new order of scribes who shall be instructed unto the kingdom of heaven—instructed in its mysteries, its laws, its future—as the Jewish scribes are instructed in the observances of the Mosaic law (ibid.). Things new and old.

1. Just as the householder brings from his stores or treasury precious things which have been heirlooms for generations, as well as newly acquired treasures; the disciples, following their Master’s example, will exhibit the true teaching of the old law, and add thereto the new lessons of Christianity.
2. Another interpretation finds a reference to Jewish sacrificial usage by which sometimes the newly-gathered fruit or corn, sometimes the produce of a former year furnished the offering (ibid.).


The price of truth.—Two of these parables appear as like to each other as they seem different from the third. It is not difficult, however, to trace in all of them one general thought; a thought which comes in, also, in what the Saviour afterwards says to His disciples, in bringing this series of parables to a close (Matthew 13:51-52). Briefly expressed, this general thought is the exceeding value of truth. No possession is better. No beauty is greater. Nothing will show this like the end.

I. No possession is better.—“The kingdom of heaven is a treasure” (Matthew 13:44). So the first parable says. Even the man who is desirous of treasure may not see this at first. It is treasure “hid” in a field. He does not appreciate at first the full value of what is before him. But when he does see it—observe the fact—he “hides” it again. He covers it up as being that which he wants to keep for himself. He covers it up also, as being the only thing which he desires to possess. For joy thereof—for its sake—he parts with all else that is his. “He goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” That is what truth is—the truth of the gospel—to him. It is the thing—the one thing—which he desires to possess (cf. Luke 10:39; Luke 10:41-42).

II. No beauty is greater.—This seems the further idea of the parable of the “pearl.” A pearl is not only a valuable possession. It is a lovely one, too; a thing of grace and adornment; a thing of lustre and glory. It is also to be observed that the man described here is a man who appreciates this. He is a “merchant seeking goodly pearls” (Matthew 13:45). The very reason why he is seeking them is because of their goodliness and beauty. And the thing he sets store on in his seeking and selecting is that they should be eminent in this way. Hence, therefore, the great significance of his final decision. In his search he comes across one particular pearl, such as he had never previously seen. He believes it to be one which it is impossible to surpass. He finds it therefore—hardly surprisingly—to be of very “great price.” That matters not in his eyes. He “goes and sells” all that he has, and brings the money together, and thankfully hands it over in exchange for that “pearl” (Matthew 13:46). So it is, also, that we ought to feel and do by the gospel of grace. As it was with the Apostle, so should it be to ourselves, “the glorious gospel of the grace of God,” the thing in comparison with which all other things are but as “dung and dross” (Philippians 3:8), and for the sake of which all that is inconsistent therewith, is parted from with delight (cf. Psalms 27:4, the “beauty of the Lord,” Psalms 96:9 etc.). Even so, in brief, the word of salvation is to those who view it aright, something as super-excellent in its methods and means as it is in its end.

III. Nothing will show all this like the end.—For the present, no doubt, it often appears as though the reverse were the truth, and as though it signified little whether a man saw or did not see the preciousness and beauty of truth. But that is simply because of what the third parable tells us with regard to the present; and of what the parable of the tares had previously told us of it in a different way. The present is a permittedly mingled condition of things. This had been represented in the previous parable by the tares and the wheat growing together. This is represented hero under a different figure, that of a “net.” The “kingdom of heaven,” as it is now, is “like unto a net cast into the sea,” and having within it, therefore, “gathered” together fish of “every kind.” For the present, therefore, and while the “net” is still in the “sea,” its contents are mingled together. The good and the bad are both there, sharing a common lot, for the time. But it was for a time—and for a time only—that this state of things was meant to continue. By and by, in the nature of things, the “net” would be drawn up on “the beach.” And when “on the beach,” in the nature of things again, its contents would remain “mingled” no more. There were those there, on the contrary, who would “sit down” and begin separating between them, and who would not conclude, also, till they had made a thorough and permanent end of the task. Then would be seen finally, what was sometimes so hidden now, how great was the difference in their lot; and how much it signified whether men saw or did not see the true character of the word. Where are the “good” fish now? Gathered in vessels. Where are the “bad” now? “Cast” wholly “away.” Where those persons now that once despised the word and yet were allowed for a time to stand by the side of those who honoured and prized it? “Severed” now from among them by the hands of those angels who have come forth for that purpose. “Severed” from among them and “cast away” from them—to where? To the same place and state as were previously spoken of in the same connection in the parable of the tares (cf. Matthew 13:50; Matthew 13:42). So doubly assured is it, therefore, that it shall not be with them, as with those who love the word, in the end.

Hence briefly, and to the disciples especially, as to those appointed to sow that seed of the word, the application of all. Let them, as such, take very good care:—

1. To understand the gospel themselves (Matthew 13:51).—How could they teach it unless they did? How could they lead into truth if they themselves were in error?

2. To prize it themselves.—This word of the kingdom, we have just seen, should be a peculiar “treasure” (Matthew 13:44-46) to all. It should be especially so to the “scribe” who should be of all men the most familiar with its meaning. And almost more so to the “householder” or steward (1 Corinthians 4:1), who has to dispense it to others. Let neither know of any “treasure” but this (end of Matthew 13:52).

3. To follow in doing so the example and teaching of the Master Himself.—This method of parables had been emphatically a bringing forth of “things new and old”—of illustrating and teaching the unfamiliar by means of the familiar (see before on Matthew 13:1-17). Also, as we saw before (Matthew 5:17 etc.), all that both seemed and was “new” in the teaching of the Saviour, was in very truth only the further extension and so the fulfilment of the “old.” Let those who were to go forth in the Saviour’s name adopt the same plan. Never be stale. Never be crude. Never obsolete. Never new-fangled. Always “up to date.” Never despising the past.


Matthew 13:44. Treasure hid in a field.—

1. Another parable teaching us that the church, in regard of the precious doctrine of grace and salvation to be had by Christ in it, is, a rich treasure, able to relieve and supply all wants and necessities; therefore called a hid treasure, which the misbeliever, how wise soever in the world, cannot perceive.
2. The believer who findeth it will make no reckoning of the worth of any earthly thing in comparison of it, but will part with whatever is pleasant or profitable unto him in this life, rather than be deprived of this grace.
3. As he laboureth to have this treasure, so he hath a care to keep it.—David Dickson.

The hidden treasure.—I. There is a treasure, placed within our reach in this world, rich beyond all comparison or conception; a treasure incorruptible, and undefiled, and unfading.

II. The treasure is hidden.

III. The hidden treasure is at last found.

IV. The instant, ardent effort of the discoverer to make the treasure his own, now that he knows what it is and where it lies.

V. He parts with all in order that he may acquire the treasure.

VI. When the man had discovered the treasure, “for joy thereof” he went and sold all, in order to buy the field that contained it.—W. Arnot, D.D.

Matthew 13:45-46. The pearl of great price.—

I. The person represented by this merchant.—Different characters, different classes of sinners, are represented as being saved in the two parables of the hid treasure and the pearl of great price. For examples of these, let me select two remarkable men—Colonel Gardiner and John Bunyan. Gardiner’s was a sudden and remarkable conversion. In salvation he found as much as the man in the treasure which his ploughshare brought to light, what he never sought nor expected. Bunyan, on the other hand, seeking the pardon of sin, a purer life, and a holier heart, had been a merchant seeking “goodly pearls;” and, in his case, the seeker became the finder.

II. The pearl of great price.—As all which the merchant sought in acquiring many goodly pearls was found in one—one precious, peerless gem—Jesus teaches us that the soul finds in Himself all it feels the want of and has been seeking in other ways—peace with God and peace of conscience, a clean heart and a renewed mind, hope in death and a heaven of glory after it.

III. How this pearl was obtained.—It was not bestowed as a gift. On the contrary, the merchantman, trading in goodly pearls, bought it at the price of all he had. Though we cannot, in the ordinary sense of the term, buy salvation, no man is saved but he who gives up his sins for Christ, takes up his cross, and, denying himself daily, follows Jesus.

IV. Some lessons taught by this figure of a merchant.

1. To make religion our chief pursuit.
2. To guard against deception.
3. To examine our accounts with God.—T. Guthrie, D.D.

Matthew 13:46. Goodly pearls.—No heart is, at this moment, quite vacant, quite listless, quite objectless. We will not speak of men whose goodly pearl is mere thoughtless self-indulgence. But we speak of three goodly pearls, sometimes reflecting, sometimes counterfeiting, the pearl of great price.

I. The pearl of true reality.—The thing that is a substance of which there are ten thousand shadows. Is there a goodlier pearl than this in all God’s universe? We do not complain of this object of search, but of the method of seeking. How often is the search of truth not a business, but a pastime, not a struggle, but an excuse! Away with the worship of doubting.

II. The pearl of virtue.—Let no man disparage it. God does not; Christ does not; but let no man make the pearl a thing which looks only at the act, and never enters into the heart, out of which, God says, are the issues of life. The seeker of the pearl of virtue must listen to what God has to say about it, and be wrapped within the folds of the righteousness of Christ.

III. The goodliest pearl of all to be threaded on this string is the pearl of love.—But who can tell the sorrows of the pursuit, or the disappointment of the attainment? One loves and the other does not. Oh, the merchant seeking this pearl, is a very sorrowful man ere all is done! But God is the Fountain of love, and offers Himself as its satisfaction. That is the Pearl of price.—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.

Matthew 13:45-46. Finding something better than sought.—The application of the parable is, intellectually at least, a short and easy process. It is not precisely the case of a man who finds the kingdom of God when he is seeking something else; neither is it the case of a man who first thoroughly knows the worth of that kingdom and then sets out in search of it. There is no such example; no man knows its worth before he obtains it. The merchant knew the value of pearls and set out in search of them, but such a pearl as that which he found he had never seen before, and never expected to see. So, although a man has some spiritual perceptions and spiritual desires, although by a deliberate judgment he determines to seek the life eternal in preference to all the business and pleasures of the world, he does not at the outset understand how exceeding rich the forgiving grace of God is. Nay, he thinks, when he first begins his search for salvation, that it may be accomplished by the union of many attainments, such as men may possess. Precious pearls and a number of them indeed; but still such pearls as he has often seen in the possession of other merchants, and as he has in former times had in his own store. He goes out with cash in hand to buy pearls, but he leaves his house and land still his own. He expects to acquire many excellent pearls and retain all his property besides. He did not conceive of one that should be worth all he had, until he saw it. It is thus that people under conviction set out in search of something that will make them right before God.—W. Arnot, D.D.

Matthew 13:46.Sacrifice for gain.—If a man wants money, he must seek it; if he wants learning, he must pay its price in hard study. Ignorance he may have without effort. To raise thistles a man need not prepare the ground nor sow the seed; to raise wheat he must do both. Toil is evermore the standard of value. Cost and worth are ever close neighbours. Only by the rugged path of toil do men reach the heights of great attainment; only by paying the price of heroic effort do they write their names high in the temple of fame. We are all familiar with the answer of Euclid to King Ptolemy Lagus when he asked, “Is there not a shorter and easier way to the study of geometry than that which you have laid down in your Elements?” His reply was, “There is no royal road to geometry.” There is no road to heaven but that of sacrifice, that of cross-bearing; we must go in this narrow way or not at all. But it is also a way of joy, a path of pleasantness and peace. You must not expect to become a Christian by accident. That blessed experience must be the result of deliberate determination, of intelligent seeking, and of faithful enduring. This truth is earnestly affirmed in many parts of Christ’s teaching. Christ’s honesty is worthy of commendation. He clearly lays down the conditions of discipleship; we must take up the cross and follow Him.—R. S. MacArthur, D.D.

Matthew 13:47-50. The net.—

I. The net gathers of “every kind.”—This is set before us as a picture of the church of Christ as it now is. It embraces every variety of character.

II. This mixture arises from the manner in which the kingdom of heaven is proclaimed among men.—It is not proclaimed by addressing private messages to selected and approved individuals, but publicly to all. The recruiting sergeant watches for likely men and singles them out from the crowd; but the kingdom of heaven opens its gates to all, because it has that which appeals to humanity at large, and can make use of every kind of man who honestly attaches himself to it.

III. But this mixture is at length to give place.—The end is not a mere running down of the machinery that keeps the world going, it is not a mere exhaustion of the life that keeps us all alive, it is not a hap-hazard cutting of the thread; it is a conclusion, coming as truly in its own fit day and order, as much in the fulness of time and because things are ripe for it, as the birth of Christ came.

IV. The distinction which finally separates men into two classes must be real and profound.—It is here said to be our value to God. It is possible some one may defend himself against the parable by saying, “I will not alarm myself by judging of my destiny by my own qualities; I am trusting to Christ.” But precisely in so far as you are trusting to Christ, you have those qualities which the final judgment will require you to show. “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” You are useful to God in so far as you have the Spirit of Christ.—M. Dods, D.D.

The draw-net.—The net is not the visible church in the world, and the fishes, good and bad, within it, do not represent the true and false members of the church. The sea is the world. The net, almost or altogether invisible at first to those whom it surrounds, is that unseen bond which, by an invisible ministry, is stretched over the living, drawing them gradually, secretly, surely, towards the boundary of this life, and over it into another. As each portion or generation of the human race are drawn from their element in this world, ministering spirits, on the lip of eternity that lies nearest time, receive them and separate the good from the evil.

I. Some of the reasons which commend this interpretation.—

1. It assumes, according to the facts of the case and the express terms of the Scripture, that the same persons who draw the net also separate the worthy from the worthless of its contents on the shore.
2. In owning this along with Olshausen, it owns also that the angels who separate the good from the evil at the end of the world are angels, and does not, with him, explain them away into the human ministry of the gospel.
3. It is perfectly congruous with the habits of fishermen, and the character of the instruments which they employ. When you allow that the angels cast and draw the net as well as divide its contents, the incongruities disappear and the picture starts into life, true to the original.
4. If any struggles are made against the encircling net during the slow, solemn process of drawing, any efforts on the part of the captives to leap out into freedom, they are made, not by one kind in displeasure at being shut up with another, but by every kind indifferently in displeasure at being shut up at all. Like the indefinite terror of mute fishes when they feel the net coming closer in, is the instinctive alarm of human beings when the hand of death is felt gradually contracting the space in which the pulses of life are permitted to play.

II. Objections which may be urged against this interpretation.—

1. The Lord at another time, in calling some of His Apostles, said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did; and I think it is by a mistake in instituting an analogy between that fact and this parable that interpreters have been led into a wrong track.

2. But has not the Lord said in this parable, as in all the rest of the group, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea? He has; yet the fact does not prove that He meant to represent the church by the net, and the labour of Apostles by the spreading and drawing of the net. The closing lesson about the kingdom relates to the closing scene of the kingdom—the separation of the wicked from the good on the great day. From the order of the subjects in the series you might expect this; from the picture actually presented you are logically led to infer this; but, especially, you know this from the spontaneous explanation then and there given by the Lord.—W. Arnot, D.D.

The parables of the net and the tares.—There is obviously considerable resemblance between this parable of the net and the parable of the tares. But the one is not a mere repetition of the other under a different figure. Every parable is intended to illustrate one truth. Light may incidentally be shed on other points, as you cannot turn your eye, or the light you carry, on the object you wish to examine without seeing and shedding light on other things as well. Now the one truth which is especially enforced in the parable of the tares is that it is dangerous in the extreme to attempt in this present time to separate the evil from the good in the church: whereas the one truth to which the parable of the net gives prominence is that this separation will be effected by and by in its own suitable time. No doubt this future separation appears in the parable of the tares also, but in that parable it is introduced for the sake of lending emphasis to the warning against attempting a separation now; in this parable of the net it is introduced with no such purpose.—M. Dods, D.D.

The emphasis in the parable.—The parable sets the present mixture of good and bad in the kingdom of heaven or in the church over against the eventual separation.—Ibid.

Matthew 13:51-52. The householder and the disciples.—

I. All truth is of necessity old as well as new.—The truths Christ taught were only new truths because men, from sin and neglect, had overlooked them.

II. As things new are in reality old, so things old—the things of the Spirit of God—never become obsolete.—They take new life, and are seen in new developments day by day.

III. Every man’s experience is a treasure-house of old and new things, by which it is allowed him to profit. The past is a precious possession of every one of us.—A. Ainger.

Things new and old.—What were the things which our Lord was anxious to assure Himself that; His disciples had understood? Evidently the things which they had just heard. “Therefore” is a particle of inference; but the argument from which the conclusion comes is not explicitly given. We can have little difficulty, however, in supplying it.

I. Our Lord is arguing from His own example.—“You say you have followed Me; well, then, note My practice; let My method show you what yours must be; let it show you what is the duty of every scribe who is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven; his teaching, like Mine, must blend the old and the new.” It was, no doubt, strange to the Twelve to hear their work set forth under the image of the text. They could understand being disciples of a prophet, or heralds of a kingdom; they were, perhaps, not greatly startled when they were told to be fishers of men; but the name of scribe must have had sinister associations for them. Jesus would have it understood that in itself the office was not only a necessary, but a great and noble thing. It was right that those who had the leisure and capacity should make a special study of the words of inspiration, that they should not keep to themselves the knowledge they gained. Our Lord would have His Apostles know that work of this honourable kind awaited them. They were not to be the mere preachers of a new doctrine. The later prophets and the Psalms were to be as dear to them as to the greatest of Rabbis; nay, infinitely dearer and more suggestive because vocal with life-giving truths hidden from the wise and prudent. Yes, they also were to be scribes and interpreters. We hardly realise, I think, how closely our Lord’s own practice corresponded with this remarkable precept; but in all His teaching how careful He was to blend the old and the new! His discourses are filled with thoughts and illustrations, the germs of which it is easy to discover, and with sayings which had become the common property of generations. When He pointed His disciples to the parables they had heard that day, He intended them to observe this very fact, that they were a fusion of old and new. He laid no claim to a perfect originality, but freely chose His materials out of the popular teaching of the day. We know that some of the most impressive parables He spoke—the surprise parables, as they are called, because they tell of the Master’s coming, as well as the fixed limiting of Christ’s work—are expansions of sayings to be found in the Jewish Talmud. And not a few of the terms most characteristic of Christianity were current in our Lord’s day. “Baptism,” “regeneration,” “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of heaven”—these were words and expressions not strange but familiar to Jewish ears. They were not the coinage of Christianity, but they were minted anew by its Author; they were stamped afresh with the Divine image and superscription.

II. As in His teaching, so in the choice of His witnesses we see the action of the same principle.—He calls the fishermen from their craft, not to obliterate their old experience, but to utilise it in the new when He should make them fishers of men, to prove that the patience and fertility of resource in which they were trained on the Sea of Galilee had ample scope in the higher vocation. He calls Matthew, bidding him abandon the most secular for the most sacred of employments; but must not the publican have found abundant opportunity of bringing out of his treasury things new and old?

III. The Christian teacher is assumed by our Lord to have a treasure on which to draw, and a varied treasure.—And this, of course, implies that it is a treasure which is for ever growing. It is true both of teachers and the taught that our Lord’s ideal is in many cases an alarming one. They are uneasy when the old is presented in a new garb; suspicious when old terms and formularies are exchanged for equivalents which make a fresh appeal to the conscience or demand fresh exercise of thought. Through a dread of innovation, the secret of which is often nothing else than mental indolence, people identify truth with a certain set of words, any revision of which is felt to be profane. The old, imperishable truths must be fused with new and living thought. Surely no view of Scripture does it less honour than the assumption that it has been completely explored, and that no new methods of inquiry, no new conditions of the church and the world, can ever make it yield what it has not yielded already. “I am verily persuaded,” said the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, as they embarked in the Mayflower, “that the Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of His Word.” “It is not incredible,” says Bishop Butler, “that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind contains many truths as yet undiscovered.” Yes, the old prayer of the Psalmist is that which befits every student of the Bible: “Open Thou mine eyes that I may see the wondrous things of Thy law.” And yet, precious as is the treasure of the written revelation, it does not constitute the whole treasure of the Christian scribe. Our confidence that the words of Christ shall never pass away lies in this—that they are not rigid rules for spiritual life; they have a power to consecrate all human interests, and to adjust themselves to all conceivable social conditions, until the kingdoms of this world shall be finally brought under His sway. The attempt has been made to treat Mohammedanism as a religion worthy to be placed in competition with Christianity. Is not this the essential quality which differentiates Christianity from all other religious and professed revelations, that whereas they profess to be complete and final, the Christian revelation is not confined within the covers of a book, but consists in a life and a spirit? But the essential weakness of Mohammedanism is this, that it has upon it the mark of finality. It is a religion of the letter, and not of the spirit.

IV. But is not the text intended to describe the attitude of mind incumbent upon us all in regard to truth?—We cannot fulfil our Lord’s description unless we are keeping our minds loyally open, and while reverentially tenacious of the old, are ready to hopefully welcome the new. Look at the map of the world according to Strabo or Ptolemy. Can anything be more ludicrously incomplete than that strange medley of fact and guesswork? But the geography of Strabo and Ptolemy satisfied the ages in which they lived, and was, no doubt, regarded at the time as a final achievement. It took centuries to develop the knowledge we have to-day. And the map of human knowledge is in the same condition. It is made up of ascertained facts and conjectures more or less wide of the mark; while beyond the regions of the explored or guessed at there lies the vaster domain for which no voyager has set sail. But this courageous openness of mind, which is the mark of a firm, manly faith, is a very different thing from the restless, inconstant spirit which is ever on the look out for novelty, which grasps at the new because it is new, and distrusts the old because it is old; which makes no distinction between facts and theories, but takes up eagerly with the latest speculation. In a stirring, excitable time, we cannot too carefully remember that while facts have an imperious claim upon us, theories have no such claim. They are not yet parts of the truth, and they may never be parts of it. They are only tentative efforts to combine facts, explain facts, or manipulate facts.—Canon Duckworth.

Matthew 13:51. Understanding the word.

1. Hearers of the gospel should labour to understand what they hear.
2. The minister by catechising should take account of his hearers, for so doth Christ, saying, “Have ye understood?”
3. People, of what quality soever, should be willing to give account to their teachers of their profiting in knowledge: for the disciples answer, “Yea, Lord.”—David Dickson.

Verses 53-58


Matthew 13:54. His own country.—The district of Nazareth.

Matthew 13:55. The carpenter’s son (see Mark 6:3).—Joseph was an artificer, for the word “carpenter” must not be interpreted in its narrowed modern import. The word “carpenter” originally meant “cart-maker.” But the term employed by the Evangelist rather corresponds to our more general word “wright,” which properly means just a workman, being etymologically connected with the word “work” or “wrought.” Like the Evangelist’s Greek term, it would originally designate an artificer, who worked, indeed, in wood, but not exclusively so. (Morison). His brethren.—An exceedingly difficult question here arises, What were these “brethren” and “sisters” (Matthew 13:56) to Jesus? Were they:

1. His full brothers and sisters? or:
2. His step-brothers and step-sisters, children of Joseph by a former marriage? or:

3. His cousins, according to a common way of speaking among the Jews respecting persons of collateral descent? On this subject an immense deal has been written; nor are opinions yet by any means agreed. For the second opinion there is no ground but a vague tradition, arising probably from the wish for some such explanation. The first opinion undoubtedly suits the text best in all the places where the parties are certainly referred to (Matthew 12:46 and its parallels, Mark 3:31 and Luke 8:19; our present passage and its parallel, Mark 6:3; John 2:12; John 7:3; John 7:5; John 7:10; Acts 1:14). But, in addition to other objections, many of the best interpreters, thinking it in the last degree improbable that our Lord, when hanging on the cross, would have committed His mother to John if He had had full brothers of His own then alive, prefer the third opinion; although, on the other hand, it is not to be doubted that our Lord might have good reasons for entrusting the guardianship of His doubly widowed mother to the beloved disciple in preference even to full brothers of His own. Thus dubiously we prefer to leave this vexed question, encompassed as it is with difficulties (Brown).


Jesus in Nazareth.—The end of this chapter is, perhaps, connected with the end of the last. Some of the people of Nazareth, including at any rate those amongst them who were nearest of kin to the Saviour, are described there as coming to Him; though not (apparently) in the spirit of sympathy with His work (Matthew 12:46-50). Here we find Him, not impossibly on account of that visit, coming to them. The incidents related are such as to throw, first, some light upon them; secondly, more light upon Him.

I. Some light upon them.—Evidently, in the first place, they were not amongst the distinguished ones of the earth. Persons of culture, persons of learning, persons of influence were not common amongst them. When anyone came to “their synagogue” who could “teach” with effect it seems to have been a surprise. It was certainly so when they found the Speaker to be one of themselves—a man brought up amongst them—a man whose father, and whose father’s occupation as a “carpenter,” were known to them all—and whose other relations, also, of the nearest description, were all of them as well known to them, even by name (Matthew 13:55-56). Who would have thought of such an one appearing amongst us? Are those who belong to Him, and who are “with us,” anything of the kind? Are they not rather, all of them, just the same as ourselves? Persons who make no pretension, and have no right to do so, to anything more? Evidently also, in the next place, like most common-place folk, they were a very prejudiced set. It was not only an “astonishment”—it was an “offence” to them—that there should be such a man in their midst (Matthew 13:57). Far from glorying in the fact that He was “one of them,” they objected to Him the more on that ground. What right had He to be a man of such a different stamp? That He was so, and that both in word and deed, it was impossible to deny. The “wisdom” He spoke with, the “mighty works” which accompanied it, were as manifest as Himself (Matthew 13:54). What exasperated them was that they could not make out how it was they were there. “Whence hath this man all these things?” The very language of prejudice ever since it was born. It will not accept what yet it cannot deny. It will not trace facts to their source. It will not submit to learn from them what they are intended to teach. It quarrels with them simply for being facts. It only wishes them out of their way.

II. More light upon Him.—Light, for example, on what He had been in the days of the past. Why were they so exceedingly astonished to see so much in Him now? Because they had seen so little in Him up to that time. It is evident that when He left Nazareth to be baptised of the Baptist, and to open His chief ministry, after a short probable stay in Judæa, in Capernaum and its neighbourhood (Matthew 4:12, etc.), there was no one amongst them—with one possible exception (Luke 2:19), who knew the kind of man that He was. It is evident also (Luke 4:23) that they heard of His doings at Capernaum on this account, with no little surprise. And just as evident (as we have noticed) that, when He now brings His greatness amongst them, they are “astonished” still more. Evidently, once more therefore, there had been no preliminary scintillations of all this during those many years that He had been dwelling amongst them before the baptism of John. Whatever His thoughts, whatever His hopes, whatever His plans, whatever His powers had been during those thirty long years of dwelling amongst them up to that date—those years, on His part, had been years of long silence and self-restraint in more directions than one. It is a picture to mark! How singularly unobtrusive, how retiring, how meek His life then must have been! How much must have been repressed that they should now look on the opposite with such unmeasured surprise. What was Jesus of Nazareth to all outward appearance during all those years? Just a “Nazarene”—and no more. Light, in the next place, as to what He is to them now. How desirous to teach! Going into “their synagogue” where He would have the readiest opportunity for so doing; and availing Himself of it when He was there to offer them instruction. Little as they either expected or wished it, they should have the offer of light from His hands. How ready, again, to make allowance for such unpreparedness to hear on their part! He well knew that it was but with them as with all men in this world. No man likes to find one of his apparent equals claiming, for all that, to be one endowed with such gifts as to make him his superior in any important respect; least of all to make him so in such a capacity as that of a prophet” (Matthew 13:57). If these His townsfolk, therefore, had such a feeling now with regard to Himself, He was the more disposed by it to feel sorrow than either disappointment or wrath. At any rate, it should not induce Him to withhold from them entirely that which He knew He was able to give. He would do some works among them, if not “many,” whatever their prejudices. They should have some witness among them, if not so much as some others, notwithstanding “their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). A most gracious answer indeed—as gracious an answer as the case admitted of—to such behaviour as theirs.

Let us learn from all this, for our own use and instruction:—

1. To beware of limiting God.—It is not for us to say where He is to look for the instruments of His work. No place, certainly, seemed less likely for such a purpose than Nazareth did at that time (John 1:46). Those who knew it best, its own inhabitants, thought so the most. Also, amongst its inhabitants no one appeared less likely for such a calling and that for the years of a “generation” than Jesus Himself. Yet never has there been called, from anywhere else, such a Teacher and Light—even the Light of the world.

2. To beware of despising any.—Probably greater prejudice, and less excuse for it, there never was in the world than amongst these townsfolk of Jesus. Yet, with all the scorn that they showed to Him, and all the multitudes waiting to hear Him elsewhere, there is no contempt in His treatment of them. If He does not give to them what is due rather to others, He still has something for them. He has something for them, though they, on their part, have only prejudice and anger for Him.


Matthew 13:55. The carpenter’s son.—Consider how the fact that Jesus was a carpenter should be a help to our faith.

I. This fact is a sign of the humility of Christ.—It is true that when He came down the tremendous way, from heaven’s glory to man’s humiliation, it did not signify so very much to Him whether He alighted at a king’s palace or a peasant’s cottage. The condescension would not be appreciably different in the two cases. Yet to us the humility of Christ is more apparent in His lowly earthly lot.

II. This fact is a proof that Jesus Christ went through the experience of practical life.—Work takes up a large part of life. It has its difficulties, its disappointments, its weariness. We all know them, whether we work with the hand or with the brain. Christ knew them too. Work has also its special requirements, its duties, its obligations. The apprentice must learn the various branches of his trade, if only that he may afterwards understand how to direct and judge of the work of the mechanics who will be under his control. Christ knows good work. When we serve Him let it be with the thoroughness He so well understands and has a right to expect.

III. This fact shows that Christ found the school for His spiritual training in His practical work.—As He bent over His task with care and diligence to do it well, His soul was growing silently in those excellencies which were ultimately revealed when His disciples “saw His glory full of grace and truth.”

IV. This fact sheds a glory over the life of manual industry.—Everything that Christ handles becomes beautiful beneath His touch. His presence in the workshop throws a holy light over its commonest contents. As the carpenter handles his tools, shall he not remember that he is doing the very work his Master did before him, and so exalted and consecrated work?

V. This fact should attract working men to Christ.—How strange that it should be said that working men are not so interested in Christianity as other classes. It must be because they are repelled by the artificial respectability of the church. It cannot be that they see anything in Christ Himself that is less attractive to them than to others. For He was a working man Himself.—W. F. Adeney, M.A.

Matthew 13:56. The originality of Jesus.—When Jesus began to be a force in human life, there were four existent types on which men formed themselves, and which are still in evidence. One is the moral, and has the Jew for its supreme illustration, with his faith in the eternal, and his devotion to the law of righteousness. The next is the intellectual, and was seen to perfection in the Greek, whose restless curiosity searched out the reason of things, and whose æsthetic taste identified beauty and divinity. The third is the political, and stood enthroned at Rome, where a nation was born in the purple and dictated order to the world. And the last is the commercial, and had its forerunner in the Phoenician, who was the first to teach the power of enterprise and the fascination of wealth. Any other man born at the beginning of the first century could be dropped into his class, but Jesus defied classification. As He moved among the synagogues of Galilee He was an endless perplexity. One could never anticipate Him. One was in despair to explain Him. Whence is He? the people whispered with a vague sense of the problem, for He marked the introduction of a new form of life. He was not referable to type; He was the beginning of a time.—John Watson, M.A.

Matthew 13:57. The world’s offence in Christ.—What is there offensive in Christianity to-day—why do so many people now find in Christian teaching a cause of vexation, an incitement to opposition, or, at least, an excuse for indifference?

I. One chief cause of the opposition is the very widespread misunderstanding about this religion of Christ as to its aims and spirit.—This misunderstanding may be traced to some extent to the imperfect teaching of the church in the past. But the chief cause is want of attention, the absence of any serious desire to understand which marks the attitude of so many people. In a certain tropical country, where rains were rare and streams were small, a period of drought had brought great distress upon the people. The ground was baked hard by the burning sun, the grass withered and died, the rivulets failed, the cattle began to suffer. Water even failed for the supply of the households. Things got worse and worse. Many lost their all; some even perished in the bush from thirst; when one man, more keen-witted than the rest, and having a little more knowledge of things, managed to sink a well on his farm. He soon tapped a spring, and, by a rude arrangement of buckets and ropes he was able to draw sufficient water for all his needs. He filled the great trough which ran along the front of his house, and sent to all his neighbours to tell them the good news, and to invite them to share his good fortune. But the story had gone about among the people that the man was a wizard, and that he had obtained the water by magic, and, moreover, that what was life to him would be death to everyone else. So they refused to come, and hundreds suffered and even perished in the very presence of the saving fountain. This is an allegory.

II. There is a certain unworldliness about Christ.—The kingdom He founds is a spiritual one, and such teaching is not appreciated by the greater number of people. Robert Buchanan describes a meeting on London Bridge between himself and a weak and miserable old man, with bare and bleeding feet—this is Jesus, the Jew. And presently he pictures Him arraigned before “the spirit of humanity,” as His judge—

“Humanity itself shall testify
Thy kingdom is a dream, Thy word a lie,
Thyself a living canker and a curse
Upon the body of the universe.”

Many there are who could echo such words if they dared. But there is one fact which stands in the way and confronts them. Christ’s kingdom lives! It lives and has greater vitality to-day than it ever had.

III. Men stumble at this teaching because of the slow progress and imperfect results of the preaching of Christianity.—I grant that it is a natural cause of hesitation, and at first sight a difficulty. The condition of society in Christian countries—in England and America to-day—is not creditable to our professions, and must be an “offence.” While Christianity has power to uplift all who submit to it, it has not the power to compel men to submit. And I shrewdly suspect that if it attempted to usurp such a power, those who now complain of it as imbecile would be the first to attack it as tyrannical. But the very argument seems to allow the fact on which I lay stress. It seems to acknowledge that Christ intended to make a complete reform of society, that at least this was the ideal He set before Himself and His followers. And this is admitting a great deal. If, however, people would use their reason a little more carefully they would surely see that no religion can, by its very nature, have a power of compulsion. Christianity aims at what is radical; it touches the springs of life; and, while people are debating, fault-finding, arguing, this kingdom of Christ is quietly going on its way. It is working out its destined ends; it is renewing hearts and ennobling lives.—P. W. Darnton, B.A.

Prejudice against Jesus.—It was once said to a sceptic: “Sir, I think you would be about the last man that would willingly do injustice to any one.” He smiled and gracefully bowing said, “Certainly.” “Well, then, sir,” was the reply, “I hope you will not do injustice to Jesus Christ.” “Pooh!” said he, and turned away.—C. Clemance, D.D.

Prejudice.—Richard Cecil illustrates the obvious tendency of man’s predilections to bias the judgment, by a watch which a gentleman put into a watchmaker’s hands, as it went irregularly. “It was as perfect a piece of work as ever was made. He took it to pieces and put it together again twenty times. No manner of defect was to be discovered, and yet the watch went intolerably. At last, it struck him that possibly the balance might have been near a magnet. On applying a needle to it, he found his suspicions true. Here was all the mischief. The steel work in the other parts of the watch had a perpetual influence on its motions, and the watch went as well as possible with a new wheel. If the soundest mind be magnetised by any predilection, it must act irregularly.”

Prejudice unreasonable.—A gentleman was one day stoutly asserting that there were no gold fields, except in Mexico and Peru. A nugget, dug up in California, was presented to him as evidence against his positive assertion. He was not in the least disconcerted. “This metal, sir, is, I own, extremely like gold; and you tell me that it passes as such in the market, having been declared by the assayers to be indistinguishable from the precious metal. All this I will not dispute. Nevertheless, the metal is not gold but auruminium; it cannot be gold, because gold comes only from Mexico and Peru.” In vain was he informed that the geological formation was similar in California and Peru, and the metals similar; he had fixed in his mind the conclusion that gold existed only in Mexico and Peru; this was a law of nature—he had no reasons to give why it should be so; but such had been the admitted fact for many years, and from it he could not swerve.—Lewes.

Matthew 13:58. Unbelief a hindrance to miracle.—

I. Our Lord’s conduct in Nazareth.—He did not perform many miracles in Nazareth because of the unbelief of the Nazarenes. This is the very opposite of what we might have been disposed to anticipate. Surely we should have thought beforehand that where there was most of unbelief there would have been the largest employment of miracle in order to overcome it. Miracles were for the production or the confirmation of faith. Moreover, our Lord had been brought up in Nazareth; all His earliest associates were there. His human breast was filled with patriotism, and therefore, doubtless, He yearned for the welfare of the Nazarenes. Yet it is of Nazareth, where there was so much unbelief, and so much prejudice to be overcome, that we are told, “He did not many mighty works there,” etc. What is the explanation of this? Observe:—

1. That although Christ did not work many miracles in Nazareth, He did work some.—“Not many” implies some (see Mark 6:5). He wrought sufficient to arouse attention and excite inquiry (Matthew 13:54).

2. The evidence afforded by a miracle is not enhanced by its frequent repetition.—The very opposite is really the case. The probability is that had our Lord multiplied miracles in Nazareth He would only thereby have enhanced the guilt and aggravated the final punishment of these Nazarenes, inasmuch as the greater the evidence which they resisted, the greater the guilt which would have attached to them, and the more severe the condemnation to which they would have been thereby exposed. And then there is another reason:—

3. In the dealings of grace God invariably treats men as morally accountable and responsible beings.—He does enough to enable those to whom the gospel is sent to believe, but no more. He does not compel the men to believe. But why was it, after all, that the unbelief of the Nazarenes restrained the wonder-working arm of the Redeemer? In St. Mark’s Gospel we are told, “He could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief,” as though to tell us that the arm of the Redeemer was paralysed by the unbelief of those amongst whom He sojourned. I think there is a deep reason to account for this; and in order to perceive that reason we should bear in mind the two-fold design with which all the miracles which Christ wrought upon earth were performed. The miracles were evidences of the Divine commission which Christ bore; but they were more than this. They were types of those wonders of grace which Christ is still able and willing to work in behalf of men’s souls. In almost every instance where Christ wrought a miracle, He required in the subject of the miracle faith, as a condition of its performance. Why? Because the miracle was intended to foreshadow His mode of acting in the economy of grace.

II. The lessons which our Lord’s conduct afford to ourselves.—

1. If not converted to God under the ordinary means of grace you have no right to expect that extraordinary means will be employed, or that, if employed, the result would be different from what it is.

2. That the great secret why we do not make greater progress in religion is unbelief.—Dr. Bickersteth, Bishop of Ripon.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/matthew-13.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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