Matthew 13:1-2. The same day — On which Jesus delivered the discourse, and performed the miracles recorded in the preceding chapter, being unwearied and incessant in the blessed work in which he was engaged, he went out of the house, into which he had retired for a while, and sat by the sea-side — Namely, the sea of Galilee, or lake of Gennesareth, that he might give the people an opportunity of resorting unto him, and being instructed by his blessed doctrine. And great multitudes were gathered unto him — The calumnies of the Pharisees not having had the effect intended. On the contrary, the crowd was now become so great, that neither the house, nor the court before it, could contain the people. So that, for the conveniency of being better heard, and less incommoded by them, he went into a ship, and sat — A small vessel on the lake, which, it seems, constantly waited upon him while he was on the coast. See Mark 3:9. Here, being conveniently seated, at a little distance from the shore, on which the whole multitude stood, and which probably might be somewhat circular and declining, he could be both easily seen and heard.
Matthew 13:3. And he spake many things unto them — “Delivered many doctrines of the highest importance, wisely making choice of such for the subject of his sermons, when he had the greatest number of hearers, because on those occasions there was a probability of doing the most good by them.” In parables — The word parable sometimes signifies a sublime discourse, elevated beyond the common forms of speech, as Numbers 23:7; Numbers 24:15; Job 27:1; Job 29:1, where see the notes: sometimes a mere proverb, or adage, such as those mentioned Luke 4:23, Physician, heal thyself; and Luke 6:39, Can the blind lead the blind? in both which places the word παραβολη, parable, is used in the original, and in the former place is rendered proverb in our translation. Sometimes the word means an apologue, or fable, as Ezekiel 17:2, where also see the note. But here, and generally in the gospels, the word is to be understood, according to its Greek etymology, as signifying a similitude or comparison, namely, taken from the ordinary affairs of men, and used to illustrate the things of God. As this is the first time the term occurs in this history, and as we shall frequently meet with it hereafter, it may not be improper to make the following general observations, applicable, more or less, to all our Lord’s parables. 1st. It is not necessary to a parable that the matter contained, or things related in it, should be true in fact. For parables are not spoken to inform us in matters of fact, but in some spiritual truths, to which they bear some proportion. This we see in Jotham’s parable of the trees going to choose themselves a king, 9:7 to 15:2 d. It is not necessary that all the actions of men, mentioned in a parable, should be morally just and good. The actions of the unjust steward, Luke 16:1-8, were not Song of Solomon 3 dly. For the right understanding of a parable, our great care must be to attend to the main scope of it; or to what our Lord had chiefly in view, and designed to teach by it. 4th. This may be learned, either from his general or more particular explication of it; or from what hath been termed the pro-parabola, or preface to the parable; or the epi-parabola, or conclusion of it. 5th. It is not to be expected that all the particular actions or things represented in a parable, should be answered by something in the explication. Lastly, Though the scope of the parable be the main thing we are to attend to, yet it may collaterally inform us in several other things also. This way of teaching, extremely common in the eastern countries, and much used by our Lord, was particularly calculated to draw and fix the attention of mankind; to excite the inquiry of such as were well disposed, and to lead them to a serious examination and diligent searching after the truth veiled under such emblems; to teach, in a manner the most natural, beautiful, and instructive, by common and familiar objects, the most divine and important doctrines, and give clearer ideas of them than could have been otherwise attained; to cause divine truths to make a more deep and lasting impression on men’s minds, and to be better remembered. Our Lord’s parables were particularly adapted to produce this last-mentioned effect, being generally taken from those objects about which his hearers were daily employed, or which daily came under their observation. Add to this, he taught by parables, that he might convey in a manner the least offensive some very ungrateful and unpalatable truths, such as the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles. It must be observed, also, as we learn from Matthew 13:11-15, that, by an awful mixture of justice and mercy, our Lord intended hereby to throw a veil over some of the mysteries of his kingdom, and to conceal from the proud and careless those truths which, if they understood, he foresaw they would only abuse to their greater condemnation.
In this chapter our Lord delivers seven parables, directing the four former, as being of general concern, to all the people; the three latter, to his disciples. He begins with the parable of a sower who cast his seed on four different kinds of ground, only one of which brought forth fruit, not because of any difference in the seed wherewith the others were sown, or any defect in the cultivation of them, but because of other reasons specified in the parable. And these were designed to represent four classes of hearers of the word of God, only one of which bears fruit to his glory; not because a different doctrine is declared to the others, or less labour bestowed upon them, but because of the hinderances of fruitfulness spoken of in the explanation of the parable. How exquisitely proper was this parable to be an introduction to all the rest! inasmuch as in it our Lord shows us why, when the same sower, he himself, or any messenger of his, always sows the same seed, it does not always produce the same effect.
Matthew 13:4-9. When he sowed, some seeds fell by the way-side — By the side of a beaten path which lay through the ground he was sowing. This wayside being neither broken up by the plough nor hedged in, the seed that fell here lay uncovered, and was partly trodden down, and partly devoured by the fowls, Luke 8:5, so that no fruit could be expected. Some fell upon stony places, επι τα πετρωδη, upon rocky places. Luke says, επι την πετραν, upon the rock; where they had not much earth — Either above them to retard their springing, or under them to nourish their roots; and forthwith, ευθεως, speedily, they sprung up, and looked very promising. And when the sun was up, and shone hot upon them, that is, upon the tender blades, they were scorched by the warmth of his beams, and because they had no root — No room for taking root in so shallow a bed of earth, and lacked moisture, (so Luke,) they withered away and perished. Observe, if they had had sufficient depth of earth, wherein to take root, and had not lacked moisture, the heat of the sun, however great, would not have caused them to wither, but rather would have promoted their growth. And some fell among thorns — Under the word thorns is included brambles, thistles, and every other kind of weed which is apt to spring up among corn, and to prevent its growth and fruitfulness. Weeds, of whatever kind, do not usually appear immediately when the corn is sown, nor perhaps till long after. The corn takes root, springs up, and perhaps even covers the ground, and bids fair for a plentiful crop, before they make their appearance: but as they are the natural product of the soil, they thrive better and grow faster than the corn, and soon overtop it. And, if they be suffered to remain, they absorb the moisture, and exhaust the fertilizing virtue of the ground; they also shade the corn from the kindly influences of the sun and rain, and so choke it that it has not room to expand itself. It therefore gradually declines, and at last dies away, and renders the husbandman’s labour, and the seed sown, fruitless. But other, the rest of the seed, fell into good ground, soft and ploughed up, not hard, unbroken, and trodden down, like a way-side; not a rocky place, but a deep soil; not a bed of thorns, brambles, and weeds, but ground purged of all such obstructions to fertility; and brought forth fruit — Being deeply rooted and nourished, it grew, and increased so as not only to produce an ear, but full and ripe corn in the ear, and that in rich abundance; some of it thirty times as much as the seed sown, some sixty, and some even a hundred times as much. Who hath ears to hear, let him — A proverbial expression used by our Lord, when he spake of things of very great importance, and which deserved peculiar attention. Such were the things now declared; they merited, and will merit, the most serious consideration of all who would not be forgetful or unfruitful hearers of the word of God, but would bring forth fruit worthy of their privileges.
Matthew 13:10-12. The disciples — Mark says, οι περι αυτον συν τοις δωδεκα, those that were about him, with the twelve, that is, not only the apostles, but such other well-disposed persons as generally attended on Christ’s ministry, and were desirous of learning of him; came to him, namely, when the assembly was broke up, and Christ had delivered many other parables afterward mentioned; for they came when he was alone, Mark 4:10, and said, Why speakest thou to them in parables? — Although not only the Jewish doctors, but all the wise men of the East taught by parables, yet because this way of teaching had in it somewhat of obscurity, and the doctrine contained under the veil of these allegories was not so easy to be apprehended as if it had been exhibited plainly and openly, without such a cover, therefore the disciples inquire why he used this more obscure, and to many unintelligible, mode of teaching. He said, Because it is given to you — Who have forsaken all to follow me, whose minds are divested of prejudice, and open to receive the truth in the love of it; to know, experimentally and practically, as well as to understand, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven — That is, the more deep and spiritual matters relating to the Messiah’s kingdom, especially such as respect inward and vital religion. For the truths here alluded to, and explained in the interpretation of this parable, are as far from being mysteries, in the common acceptation of the word, that is, doctrines incomprehensible, as any thing in the world can be. But to them — Who have not been prevailed upon to forsake any thing in order to follow me, and who are obstinate to such a degree that they will not hear any thing contrary to their prejudices and passions, it is not given: For whosoever hath — That is, improves what he has, uses the grace and blessings imparted according to the design of the Giver, to him shall be given — More and more, in proportion to that improvement. But whosoever hath not — Improves it not, from him shall be taken even what he hath — Here is the grand rule of God’s dealing with the children of men: a rule, fixed as the pillars of heaven. This is the key to all his providential dispensations, as will appear to men and angels in that day.
Matthew 13:13-15. Therefore speak I to them in parables, because they seeing, see not — In pursuance of this general rule, I do not give more knowledge to this people, because they use not that which they have already: having all the means of seeing, hearing, and understanding, they use none of them; they do not effectually see, or hear, or understand any thing. For instance, seeing my miracles, which are incontestable proofs of my divine mission, they are not convinced thereby that I am their long-expected Messiah: and hearing my discourses, they are not instructed by what they hear in the design of my coming, and the nature of my kingdom. Neither do they understand — My doctrine. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias — Which indeed was principally intended of the men of this generation. See note on Isaiah 6:9-10. Which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand — Or rather, as the words are more properly rendered, ye will hear, but in nowise understand; that is, ye will surely hear; opportunities of hearing, all possible means of instruction, will be given you; yet they will profit you nothing. For this people’s heart is waxed gross — επαχυνθη, is waxed fat, is sensual, stupid, and insensible. And their ears are dull of hearing — βαρεως ηκουσαν, they hear heavily, or with heavy ears, like persons half asleep. And their eyes they have closed — Namely, against the light. Observe, they themselves have done it, not God. In other words, They have benumbed or shut up all their spiritual senses, lest at any time they should see with their eyes — That light of divine knowledge which would put them to pain; and should hear with their ears — Those sacred truths which would convince them of sin; and should understand with their heart — Their real condition of guilt and depravity; and should be converted — Effectually turned to God in true repentance, living faith, and new obedience; and I should heal them — Of their spiritual diseases. They are unwilling to understand the things of God, and afraid, not desirous, that he should heal their souls, and save them from their sins.
Matthew 13:16-17. But blessed are your eyes, &c. — For you both see and hear, and understand. You have not only greater opportunities of instruction than others, but you both know how to prize, and are concerned to improve them. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets — Who prophesied of the coming of the Messiah; and righteous men — To whom God familiarly showed himself, and made known his will, as he did to Abraham and the patriarchs; and many kings, Luke 10:24; from whose seed the Messiah was to spring, and whose kingdoms and persons were types of him and his kingdom, have desired to see — Before their eyes, those things which ye thus see, and have not seen them, they only seeing them afar off in the promises made to them concerning these days. See Hebrews 11:13; and 1 Peter 1:11-12.
Matthew 13:18-19. Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower — A parable which our Lord judged to be so important that he introduced it with a double demand of attention, Hearken, behold; Mark 4:3; and concluded it with a third, and still more solemn demand thereof, who hath ears to hear, let him hear; and here, proceeding to the explanation of it, he calls for attention the fourth time. And the reason of this is evident: the parable sets before us, in a summary point of view, all the grand hinderances of our bearing fruit, and that in the same order in which they occur. The first danger is, lest the birds should devour the seed, or it should be trodden down. If it escape this, there is then another danger, namely, lest it be scorched, and wither away. It is long after this that the thorns spring up and choke the good seed. A vast number of those who hear the word of God, receive the seed as by the way-side. Of those who do not lose it by the birds, yet many receive it as on stony places. Many of them who receive it on a better soil, yet suffer the thorns to grow up and choke it: so that few even of these endure to the end, and bear fruit unto perfection: yet in all these cases, it is not the will of God that hinders, but their own voluntary perverseness. When any one heareth, &c. — The parable, it must be observed, only concerns the hearers of the gospel. As to those who decline, or neglect to hear it, their portion is frequently given them elsewhere, and their danger and misery declared with sufficient clearness; the word of the kingdom — Namely, of the kingdom of Christ, generally termed in the gospels, the kingdom of God, or of heaven: the word which describes the nature, and shows the excellency and necessity of the kingdom of grace, preparatory to that of glory, and points out the way leading thereto. See notes on Romans 14:17; and Mark 1:15. This is the good seed, which every sower sent by Jesus Christ will be careful to sow. Not the chaff of metaphysical speculations, of human traditions, and empty notions, nor the light corn of mere moral doctrines, much less the tares of superstitious injunctions, or of enthusiastical, or Pharisaic, or antinomian delusions; but the solid and well-bodied grain of the essential truths of the gospel of Christ. And understandeth it not — For the truths that are not understood, how often soever they are heard, are in this parable fitly compared to the seed which lies uncovered on the surface of the ground, exposed to be instantly picked up by the fowls of heaven. But why is not the word of the kingdom understood? Either, 1st, because, while delivered, it is not attended to; or, 2d, because it is not heard in a spirit of prayer for divine illumination, without which divine things are not understood, Luke 24:45; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 2:14. But the Greek expression, μη συνιεντος, may with equal propriety be rendered considereth it not. Considering or meditating upon the word heard, is like harrowing in and covering up the seed sown on the ploughed ground; in consequence whereof, and not otherwise, imbibing moisture from the earth, it vegetates and springs up. When the word is not thus understood and considered, then cometh the wicked one; Satan cometh immediately; (so Mark;) either inwardly filling the mind with thoughts of other things, and exciting earthly and carnal desires and dispositions in the heart; or by his agents, such as all they are that introduce other subjects when people should be considering what they have heard. And catcheth away that which was sown in his heart — Which was intended deeply to impress and sink into it; and to remain, not only in the understanding and memory, but also in the affections, as a seed of true piety and virtue. And now the seed, the truths heard, being taken away, with the good impressions produced thereby, no fruit is to be looked for. It is justly observed here by Dr. Whitby, that this industry of Satan to snatch the word out of our hearts, as it discovers his enmity against the gospel, so doth it highly commend the excellency and efficacy of it: for were it not of great importance to preserve it there, he would not be so industrious to snatch it thence. And were it not, when there, a powerful instrument to work within us that faith which purifies the heart, why doth he do this lest we should believe? See Luke 8:12. This is he that receiveth seed by the way-side — And a great proportion of most congregations are of this description.
Matthew 13:20-21. He that received the seed into stony, rather, rocky, places — Where the bed of earth was very shallow, is he that heareth the word — Hears it with attention, and in a spirit of prayer, sincerely desiring that the eyes of his understanding may be opened; nay, and understands what he hears, and even seriously considers it afterward. For he is said, Luke 8:13, to believe for a while, and here to receive it with joy; being struck, doubtless, with the beauty of the truth, and drawn by the preventing grace of God. Yet hath he not root in himself — No deep work of grace in his soul; no real change in the ground of his heart. He is not truly regenerated and made a new creature in Christ. The consequence is, he only endureth for a while — Continues to profess an attachment to the truth, as long as the truth is held in esteem, and proceeds on, apparently, in the way of the kingdom, while the way is smooth, and no stumbling-block, or difficulty, occurs therein. But when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word — When the truth and its professors are exposed to reproach and infamy, and the disciples of Jesus are called to drink of his cup of suffering, by and by, Greek ευθυς, immediately, he is offended, σκανδαλιζεται, he is stumbled. He finds a thousand pretences for leaving so narrow and rugged a way. Luke has it, εν καιρω πειρασμου αφιστανται, In time of temptation, or trial, they fall off, namely, as blossoms from the trees, through a frost in the spring. It has been observed above, that the warmth of the sun’s beams will rather promote than hinder the growth of the corn, if it hath sufficient depth of earth, wherein to take root, and sufficient moisture; in like manner, if a deep work of grace be wrought in a man’s heart, and he be really born from above, tribulation, persecution, and other trials and temptations will be so far from destroying his piety, or even obstructing the growth of grace in his soul, that they will rather promote it, and though not joyous but grievous while they continue, yet will afterward yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness, to those that are exercised thereby; and will tend to perfect their faith and patience, and other graces, and prepare them for heaven, as hot weather before the harvest ripens the corn, when full in the ear, for the sickle.
Matthew 13:22. He that received seed among thorns is he that heareth the word — And proceeds further in the way of duty than either of those mentioned in the former instances. In spite of Satan and his agents, the person here intended considers, marks, learns, and inwardly digests what he hears. Yea, he has root in himself. The word sinks into his mind and heart. He is deeply humbled under a sense of his sinfulness and guilt, and brought to experience repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He is even inwardly changed, so that he does not draw back even when tribulation and persecution ariseth. And yet, even in him, together with the good seed, the thorns, &c., spring up, (perhaps unperceived at first, at least neglected and not rooted up,) till they gradually choke it, destroy all its life and power, and it becometh unfruitful. To thorns among corn our Lord here compares the cares of the world, namely, anxious cares, which most beset the poor, but not them only; for persons in the middling ranks of life, and even the rich, are often no little harassed by them, and greatly obstructed in their Christian progress. By thorns also our Lord intends the deceitfulness of riches; deceitful indeed! for they promise much, but perform little; offer themselves to many, but give themselves to few; and to those few bring care and perplexity, rather than satisfaction and comfort. They promise to abide with us through life, if not to preserve our name in everlasting remembrance: but, alas! frequently take themselves wings and fly away. They engage our dependance, and we lean on them as though they were the staff of life; but quickly find, by sad experience, they are but “a broken reed at best, and oft a spear,” piercing us through with many sorrows. Like Judas, whom they corrupted, “they kiss and betray, they smile and smite into hell. They put out the eyes, harden the heart, steal away all the life of God, fill the soul with pride, anger, and love to the world, and make men enemies to self-denial and the whole cross of Christ.” — Wesley. Luke also mentions the pleasures of life as another weed, choking and rendering unfruitful the good seed. To which pleasures deceitful riches minister, and are a great temptation, putting it into men’s power to gratify their carnal desires and unruly appetites and passions in every excess to which Satan or their own hearts prompt them. But not only are such gross indulgences as these here included in the hurtful pleasures which are represented as choking the good seed, but all the fashionable amusements and gratifications of sense and fancy in which mankind, and especially the young of both sexes, are prone to seek their happiness. There is yet another weed, which too frequently prevents the fruitfulness of the incorruptible seed, and all improvement, if not even perseverance in true piety, and that is, desires after other things, mentioned in the parallel passage by Mark. This equally annoys high and low, rich and poor, young and old; and if not eradicated or suppressed is equally destructive to the life of God in all. God himself is all-sufficient to satisfy the most enlarged desires of all his intelligent creatures. There is enough in him to make them completely happy. All our desire therefore should be unto him, or, at least, nothing should be esteemed, desired, delighted in, or pursued, but in perfect subordination to him and his love: and when this is not the case, but the desire of our heart is turned toward other objects, our intercourse with God is of necessity interrupted, and the influences of his Spirit withheld from us; the consequence of which is, we lose all union with him, and become twice dead, plucked up by the roots. Now when all these, who receive the seed as among thorns, who begin in the Spirit, but end in the flesh; run well for a time, but are afterward hindered; are also, as well as the two preceding classes, excepted, alas! how few yet remain to be compared to the good ground, mentioned in the next verse!
Matthew 13:23. He that received seed into the good ground — Described in note on verse eight, is he that heareth the word and understandeth, or, considereth it — Herein he differs from the first class of hearers: he understands what he hears, and makes it the matter of his serious and frequent meditation. And he differs from those of the second class; for, according to Luke, he keeps, or, retains it, as κατεχει signifies. Notwithstanding the opposition or persecution he meets with, he holds fast what he has received, namely, both the word of truth itself, and the change it was instrumental in producing in him. So that he not only endureth for a while, but to the end. He is also distinguished from those of the third class: for he receives and retains the truth in an honest and good heart, Luke 8:15; a heart, not honest and good by nature, but made such by grace; a new heart given him by God, and a new spirit put within him. Ezekiel 36:26. Therefore he is not like the ground overrun with thorns, and other weeds, which was dishonest, so to speak; eluding the tiller’s toil, and deceiving the husbandman’s expectations. Which also beareth fruit — Namely, the fruits of the Spirit, internal and external, holy tempers, words, and works, repentance toward God, and fruits meet for repentance, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the proper fruits of faith, godliness and righteousness, piety and virtue, in all their branches: some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty — That is, in various proportions, some abundantly more than others, the situations and circumstances in which some are placed by the providence of God affording them far greater opportunities for receiving and doing good than fall to the lot of others, and the abilities and capacities for usefulness in some far exceeding those of others.
Matthew 13:24-30. Another parable put he forth unto them — In which he further explains the case of unfruitful hearers, and shows that persons of various characters would profess to receive the gospel, and be accounted members of the Christian Church; but that there should be a final separation between them in the other world, however they might be blended together in this. The kingdom of heaven — This expression, as has been observed before, sometimes signifies the gospel dispensation, sometimes true religion under the gospel; sometimes the Church of Christ, and that as well in its militant as in its triumphant state. The phrase is also often used for a person or thing relating to any of those. Here the meaning seems to be, that Christ, preaching the gospel, may be likened to a man sowing good seed, &c. Or, that the state of things in the gospel Church may be illustrated in the following manner. Which sowed good seed in his field — God formed our first parents upright, and sowed nothing but good in his whole creation. And Christ sowed only the good seed of truth in his Church, and planted it with such as were truly righteous. But while men slept — Who were set to watch, namely, magistrates and ministers, the servants of the husbandman. Observe, reader, Satan hath a power to persuade, allure, seduce; but not to force. If the servants of Christ watched, and did their duty, there would be much less open wickedness in the world, and less secret sin in the Church than there is. His enemy came and sowed tares — Rather darnel, as it seems ζιζανια ought to be rendered. “It appears,” says Dr. Campbell, “from the parable itself, 1st, That this weed was not only hurtful to the corn, but otherwise of no value, and therefore to be severed and burnt. 2dly, That it resembled corn, especially wheat, since it was only when the wheat was putting forth the ear that these weeds were discovered. Now neither of these characters will suit the tare, which is excellent food for cattle, and sometimes cultivated for their use; and which, being a species of vetch, is distinguished from corn, from the moment it appears above ground. Therefore, as it cannot be the tare that is meant, it is highly probable that it is the darnel, in Latin lolium, namely, that species called by botanists temulentum, which grows among corn, not the lolium perenne, commonly called ray, and corruptly rye grass, which grows in meadows. For, 1st, This appears to have been the Latin word by which the Greek was wont to be interpreted. 2dly, It agrees to the characters above mentioned. It is a noxious weed; for when the seed of it happens to be mingled and ground with the corn, the bread made of this mixture always occasions sickness and giddiness in those who eat it; and the straw has the same effect upon the cattle. It is from this quality, and the appearance of drunkenness which it produces, that it has the specific name given it by botanists. And probably for the same reason it is called by Virgil, infelix lolium. It has also a resemblance to wheat sufficient to justify all that relates to this in the parable.” “The only English translation,” adds the doctor, “in which I have found the word darnel, is Mr. Wesley’s.”
When the blade was sprung up, &c., then appeared the tares, rather, the darnel, also — It was not discerned before, but now could easily be distinguished. So the servants of the householder — Or, of the proprietor of the estate, as οικοδεσποτης seems to signify here: came and said, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? — That is, good seed only; the seed of pure wheat, without any corrupt mixture? whence then hath it darnel? — He said, An enemy hath done this — A plain answer to the great question concerning the origin of evil. God made men (as he did angels) intelligent creatures, and consequently free either to choose good or evil; but he implanted no evil in the human soul. An enemy (with man’s concurrence) hath done this. Darnel in the Church is properly hypocrites, or mere outside Christians, such as have only the form of godliness without the power. Open sinners, such as have neither the form nor the power, are not so properly darnel as thistles and brambles, which ought to be rooted up without delay, and not suffered in the Christian community. Whereas, should fallible men attempt to gather up the darnel, they would often root up the wheat with it.
Matthew 13:31-32. Another parable put he forth — The two former parables relate chiefly to unfruitful hearers: the two that follow, to those who bear good fruit. The kingdom of heaven — Both the gospel dispensation in the world, and the kingdom of grace in the souls of true believers, especially the former; is like to a grain of mustard-seed — Small and contemptible in its beginning. Which is indeed the least of all seeds — “That is, of all those seeds with which the people of Judea were then acquainted. Our Lord’s words are to be interpreted by popular use. And we learn from this gospel, Matthew 17:20, that like a grain of mustard-seed was become proverbial for expressing a small quantity.” But when it is grown, it becometh a tree — The term tree is applied by botanists to plants of the larger kind, which grow to the magnitude of shrubs, and for that reason are termed plantæ arborescentes: and “that there was a species of the sinapi, [mustard seed,] or, at least, what the Orientals comprehended under that name, which rose to the size of a tree, appears from some quotations brought by Lightfoot and Buxtorf from the writings of the rabbles, men who will not be suspected of partiality when their testimony happens to favour the writers of the New Testament.” “The Talmud mentions a mustard-tree so large that a man might with ease sit in it; and another, one of whose branches covered a tent. And it is certain we shall be much mistaken if we judge of vegetables or animals, in the eastern and southern countries, merely by what those of the same species are among us.” — Doddridge. Thus, from small beginnings, will the Christian doctrine spread in the world, and the life of Christ, or true religion, in the soul.
Matthew 13:33. Another parable spake he unto them — With a view still further to illustrate the progress of the gospel in the world, and of true religion in the soul. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman hid — That is, covered up; in three measures of meal — Which seems to have been the quantity that they usually baked at once; till the whole was leavened — For although the leaven seemed lost for a while in the mass of dough, it secretly wrought through it by a speedy though almost insensible fermentation. Thus shall the gospel spread in the world, and divine grace in the souls of men, influencing and assimilating their spirit and conduct.
Matthew 13:34-35. All these things spake Jesus in parables — Mark has it, With many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to bear it. That is, he preached the doctrines of the gospel in these and many other parables of a like nature, according as his hearers were able to receive them. And without a parable spake he not unto them — That is, not at this time; at other times he did. That it might be fulfilled — That is, whereby was fulfilled; that which was spoken by the prophet — Namely, by Asaph, Psalms 78:2, whose words the evangelist here quotes, and accommodates to Jesus. See notes on Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17.
Matthew 13:36-39. Then Jesus sent the multitude away — The evening probably drawing on, for the people had now been long collected together: and went — From the vessel where he had been preaching; into the house — Probably a friend’s house, that he might refresh himself a little: and his disciples came, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares — They say nothing of the two other parables, because, probably, they understood them; or, perhaps, this parable affected them more than either of the others, in regard of its dreadful conclusion. Jesus readily granted their request, pleased, doubtless, that they were desirous of understanding every part of his doctrine. He answered, He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man — Christ sowed the good seed of truth by preaching the gospel, and thereby, through the influences of his Spirit, forming and raising up real Christians, with whom to plant his church. The field is the world — To enlighten and save the world is the great end for which the gospel is preached, and out of it believers are gathered. Or rather, as appears from the parable itself, the church in the world is meant by the field. The good seed are the children of the kingdom — That is, the children of God, the righteous. But the tares [or darnel] are the children of the wicked one — How much soever they may have of the form of godliness, and however unblameable they may appear in their outward conduct, not being justified by grace, nor renewed in the spirit of their minds, but still in a state of guilt and depravity, they are not the genuine children of God, but those of the wicked one. “The good seed,” says Baxter, “as sown, is the gospel; but as springing up in fruit, it is the faithful, who are properly the members of the Church of Christ. The tares, as sown, are evil doctrines and temptations; but as sprung up in fruit, are the children of the devil, who is the father of wickedness, and that enemy of God and man who sowed them.” The harvest is the end of the world — Even the day of final judgment and retribution; the reapers are the angels — Who shall be employed in the services of that day, and especially in gathering together the saints, and separating them from the rest of mankind, in order to their eternal salvation, and in executing the sentence of condemnation passed on the ungodly.
Matthew 13:40-43. As the tares are gathered — At the command of the owner of the field; and burnt in the fire — So totally destroyed as never to revive and flourish again; so shall it be at the end of the world — With regard to the finally impenitent: their destruction, not their annihilation, shall be complete and eternal; without any hope or possibility of a restoration. See note on Matthew 3:12. The Son of man shall send forth his angels — Who shall all attend him on that solemn occasion, Matthew 25:31. What a high idea does our Lord here give us of himself; representing the holy angels as his attendants, who shall wait on him at the last day, and at his order assemble the whole world before him! And they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend — Whatever had grieved the children of God, or been an obstruction to them in their Christian course; whatever things or persons had hindered the good seed which Christ had sown from taking root or bearing fruit. The Greek, παντα τα σκανδαλα, is, all the scandals, or, stumbling-blocks. And them which do iniquity — Who shall now be perfectly and eternally separated from the righteous, and excluded from Christ’s kingdom. And shall cast them into a furnace of fire — These blessed spirits, as the executioners of the divine vengeance, shall cast them into the unquenchable fire of hell. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth — The most extreme torment, attended with the height of anguish, rage, and despair; a despair aggravated by all the privileges they once enjoyed, and the vain hope which, as professors of the true religion, they once entertained. Therefore they shall not be annihilated, nor their misery alleviated by any expectation of being ever restored or delivered from their sufferings. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun — “Being freed from all the humbling circumstances which attend mortality, they shall shine like the sun in the firmament for brightness and beauty and shall find no diminution of their splendour by age. A noble image this to represent the glory and happiness of the righteous with God their Father.” Who hath ears to hear, let him hear — “This exclamation intimates, that truths of greater importance and solemnity cannot be uttered than those which respect the final misery of the wicked, and the inconceivable happiness of the righteous, and that all who have the faculty of reason, ought therefore to regard them with becoming attention.” — Macknight.
Matthew 13:44. Again — The three following parables were proposed, not to the multitude, but peculiarly to the apostles: the two former of them relate to those who receive the gospel; the third, both to those who receive, and those who preach it. The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field — The kingdom of God, to be set up in the hearts of men, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, or the salvation of the gospel, is a treasure indeed, but a treasure which, though contained in the field of the Scriptures, is hid from the carnal part of mankind, even from the most wise and prudent of them. Many who frequently traverse this field are not aware that it contains such a treasure. But when a man, in consequence of having the eyes of his understanding opened, has discovered it, he hideth it in his heart — makes, at first, his discovery the matter of his serious meditation in private, rather than the subject of his conversation in public; or uses the greatest care and caution, and is more intent on securing the treasure to himself, than on telling to others what a discovery he has made: and for joy thereof — Through joy arising from the prospect of being speedily enriched; goeth and selleth all that he hath — Gives up all other happiness; parts with every object that has engaged, or would engage, his affection; renounces every desire, care, and pursuit, every interest and pleasure that he sees to be incompatible with his enjoyment of the salvation he seeks, or would prevent his obtaining it; and buyeth that field — Makes himself acquainted with, and embraces by faith the truth as it is in Jesus, the glad tidings announced thereby, and revealed in the Scriptures, and with the field obtains the treasure: for this law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes him free from the law of sin and death, Romans 8:2.
Matthew 13:45-46. Again, the kingdom of heaven — That is, one that earnestly seeks for it; is like unto a merchant-man, who goes about from one city or country to another, seeking goodly, or beautiful pearls, or jewels. Thus the sacred writers often compare and prefer wisdom, or true religion, to costly jewels. See Job 28:15-19; Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price — Of an exceeding great value, sold all that he had and bought it — As well knowing he would be a great gainer though he should part with all he possessed for it. Titus the truly enlightened believer freely and readily gives up, not only all sin, but all that is in the world, which he is called to part with, that he may receive the kingdom of God into his heart, and may be made a partaker of the blessings of the gospel. “He,” says Baxter, “that findeth not by faith enough in the love of God and heavenly glory, and in Christ the way thereto, to make him consent sincerely and practically to sell or part with all the world, rather than lose it, is not capable of a just title to it, nor shall obtain it.”
Matthew 13:47-50. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, &c. — The gospel preached to the world may be compared to a net cast into the sea, and gathering fishes of all kinds. For by the preaching of it congregations are gathered, and a visible church is formed, and both good and bad men are brought to profess themselves members of it, and are mingled together in such a manner, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make a proper distinction between them: Christian discipline, however, and strong, close exhortation, in all well-regulated churches, or properly-constituted Christian societies, begin that separation in this world which shall be accomplished by the angels of God in the world to come. “This parable will appear peculiarly proper, if we consider that it was spoken to fishermen, who had been called from their employments, with a promise that they should catch men, Matthew 4:19. It differs from the parable of the tares in its extent, representing the gathering of wicked men in general into the visible church along with the good, by means of the preaching of the gospel, together with the final judgment and state of the wicked; whereas the parable of the tares represents the introduction and punishment of hypocrites in particular.” — Macknight.
Matthew 13:51-52. Jesus saith, Have ye understood all these things? — As well those parables of which I have given you no particular explication, as those that I have explained? Thus a conscientious teacher will sedulously inquire concerning the profiting of his hearers. They say unto him, Yea, Lord — We have understood them. Then saith he, Every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven — That is, every duly-prepared preacher of the gospel, is like unto a man that is a householder, &c. — Has a treasure of divine knowledge, out of which he is able to bring forth all sorts of instructions. By this similitude our Lord showed his disciples the use they were to make of the knowledge they had acquired, whether from the old revelation that had been made to them by the prophets, or from the new one of which Jesus was the author and dispenser. As if he had said, As the wise master of a family, who possesses plenty of all sorts of provisions, brings them forth as the occasions of his family require, just so every able minister of the gospel, out of the stores of his knowledge, must bring forth instructions suitable to the necessities of his hearers. The word treasure signifies any collection of things whatsoever, and the places where such collections are kept.
Matthew 13:53-55. When Jesus had finished these parables — Namely, those last mentioned, delivered in the house, which he added to the others spoken before in public; he departed thence, (see Mark 6:1,) and came once more into his own country — Namely, Nazareth: but with no better success than he had had there before: for though he preached in their synagogue with such wisdom and eloquence that they were astonished, and also performed some miracles, yet the Nazarenes were not disposed to believe on him, taking offence at the poverty and meanness of his family and relations. They said, therefore, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? — Whence? certainly from above, for you yourselves acknowledge that they are too extraordinary to be ascribed to a poor uneducated man. Is not this the carpenter’s son? — In Mark it is, Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? — Although the word, ο τεκτων, rendered carpenter, may mean one that works either in wood, iron, or stone, yet it is probable that a carpenter, properly so called, is here intended. Accordingly Justin Martyr tells us that Jesus, before he entered on his public ministry, was employed in this occupation: and the ancient Christians were all of the same opinion. The Jewish canons required that all parents should teach their children some trade; and, probably, the poverty of the family engaged Christ, while he was at home with Joseph, to work at his. What an additional proof is this of the humiliation of the blessed Redeemer for our sakes! The four persons here mentioned and termed the brethren of Christ, it appears, were his cousins, the sons of his mother’s sister, the wife of Cleophas, or Alpheus. By James is meant James the Less, whom St. Paul calls the Lord’s brother, Galatians 1:19. Joses, or Joseph, (for the name is the same,) is the only son of the virgin’s sister, who never was an apostle. Simon is the same who is called the Canaanite, or Zelotes, to distinguish him from Simon Peter. And Judas, or Jude, is the author of the epistle that goes under that name: wherein he is styled the brother of James.
Matthew 13:56-57. Whence then hath this man all these things? — “This, like many other things that have since been objected against the gospel of Christ, is as much the language of stupidity as of infidelity; for the meanness of Christ’s education was a demonstration that his teaching in so excellent a manner must be the effect of some extraordinary and divine influence on his mind.” — Doddridge. And they were offended in him — Or scandalized at him, by reason of his mean original and humble circumstances in the world, and therefore would not believe that he was the Messiah. Jesus said, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country — Or, as Dr. Doddridge renders the clause, A prophet is nowhere less esteemed than in his own country. “This is plainly the sense of the words, (though our translation is more literal,) for a prophet may, and often is affronted at a distance from home, as Christ himself found by frequent experience.” The expression is proverbial, signifying, “that those who possess extraordinary endowments are nowhere in less request than among their relations and acquaintance. The reason is, superior merit never fails to be envied, and envy commonly turns the knowledge it has of persons some way or other to their disadvantage.” — Macknight.
Matthew 13:58. And he did not, (Mark says, he could not do,) many mighty works, because of their unbelief — On which words it has been justly observed, that they are not to be understood so strictly as if the power of Christ was here disarmed; but only, that as they brought but few sick people to him for a cure, he did not judge it proper to obtrude his miracles upon them. On the same principle it is, that faith, in some cases, though not in all, is made the condition of receiving a cure. And Christ saw it proper to make it so here, as well he might, considering what they must undoubtedly have heard of him from other places, and what they had confessed themselves but just before, of mighty works being wrought by his hands; which shows, indeed, that their unbelief did not so much consist in a doubt of his miraculous power, as of his divine mission, which, to any unprejudiced person’s mind, that power so abundantly proved. “The reasons,” says Mr. Wesley, “why many mighty works are not wrought now, is not, that the faith is every where planted; but that unbelief everywhere prevails.”
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany