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THE USE AND INTENT OF PARABLES
Matthew 13:13-15. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
IT is certain that parabolical representations are, for the most part, obscure, and difficult to be understood. It may well therefore be a subject of inquiry, why our blessed Lord adopted that method of instructing his auditors, in preference to a plain undisguised declaration of the truth? This very question was agitated among his own disciples, who not being able to satisfy themselves respecting it, entreated an answer from himself upon the point [Note: ver. 10.]. The reply which our Lord made to it is the subject of our present consideration. We shall,
Explain the general import of the text—
The Jews in our Lord’s time were extremely averse to receive instruction—
[Never were any people more blinded by prejudice than they: they heard our Lord only with a view to eavil at his word; and asked questions of him only that they might ensnare him; and though they were constrained to acknowledge that he spake as never man spake, they would not receive his testimony. They saw his word confirmed by numerous, and most stupendous miracles; and yet, instead of yielding to conviction, they were always asking for more signs. Rather than confess the hand of God in the wonders wrought by him, they ascribed them to the devil: and when that refuge failed them, they sought to destroy both him and Lazarus, lest his having raised the dead should induce the people to believe on him. The instant they saw the drift of his discourses, they accused him of opposing the law of Moses, and of blasphemy against God. In short, they shut their eyes against the light, and determinately resisted all the methods used for their conversion and salvation.]
They exactly accorded with the description long before given of them by the prophet—
[The words of the prophet in their literal sense, were an order to him to go and preach to the people, though he was apprised beforehand that they would not listen to him, or be converted by him. But they looked forward also to the times of the Gospel, and were a prophecy, that when Christ and his Apostles should preach to the Jews, the greater part of the nation being blinded by their own prejudices and passions, would determinately set themselves against the truth. In this sense the words were applied by St.Paul to those who rejected his ministry [Note: Acts 28:25-27.]; and in this sense our Lord represents them as accomplished in his hearers.]
It was this state of their minds that induced him to adopt the plan of teaching them by parables—
[The people shut their eyes against plain truths; and therefore our Lord taught them in an obscure way.
But here arises a question; was the people’s blindness a reason for our Lord’s teaching them by parables? or, was our Lord’s teaching them by parables the intentional cause of their blindness? Did he so teach them because they were blind? or did he so teach them, in order to make them blind?
Beyond a doubt, the former of these positions seems more consonant with the general character of our Lord. But the more obvious construction of his words seems rather to favour the latter sentiment.
The language of prophecy is sometimes exceeding strong; and the prophets are said to do, what they only foretell as certainly to happen [Note: Jeremiah 1:10. Ezekiel 43:3.]; consequently, when the prophecies are quoted, they are frequently to be understood in rather a lower sense than the words at first sight appear to bear. Accordingly the prophecy as quoted by our Lord represents him as speaking to the people in parables, not on purpose to blind them, but with the lamentable prospect of their rejecting his message, and of their shutting their eyes, as if they were afraid of seeing the light, and of being converted by it.
Yet there is an objection to this solution, namely, that both St. Mark and St. Luke make our Lord speak directly an opposite language [Note: Mar 4:11-12 and Luke 8:10.]. But to this we answer, that neither of these evangelists expressly quotes the prophecy, as St. Matthew does: they only allude to it; and therefore may be considered rather as using the words in an accommodated sense. And indeed St. Mark’s own declaration in ver. 33. that “with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it,” shews clearly, that what he before spake in allusion to the prophecy, must be understood in a sense that can be reconciled with the declaration itself: for otherwise there would be an absolute contradiction between his two assertions. But they perfectly accord with each other, if we interpret the former as importing, that our Lord spake to the people in parables, that they might see (sufficient to instruct them) and not perceive (the lull drift of his discourses, which would make them only turn away from him in disgust) if peradtventure [Note: Here the translation of the word μήποτε, upon which the whole depends, is altered from lest, to if peradventure. But it occurs in a parallel passage, where it is actually so translated, and where, unless it were so rendered, there would be no sense at all. See 2 Timothy 2:25. Indeed, if it be not so translated in St. Mark, our Lord must be understood to say, that he preached unintelligibly to them for fear they should be converted. But surely, this is a motive which we would not willingly ascribe to him, especially when his words so easily admit of a very different interpretation.] he might (by this cautious method of instructing them) convert and save their souls.
Thus there was in this way of teaching, something favourable, and something judicial. The people set themselves against the truth; therefore our Lord withheld his plainer instructions from them: but he did so, not with a view to increase, but rather to remove, their blindness.]
Having fixed the meaning of the text itself, we proceed, in answer to the Apostles’ question, to,
State more particularly our Lord’s reasons for teaching by parables—
In the whole of his ministry our Lord was influenced by benevolence. More especially in addressing the people by parables, he sought,
To counteract their prejudices—
[They were determined to reject every thing that opposed their prejudices, or their passions, and on no account to admit the idea of a suffering Messiah. The only way therefore of bringing them to acknowledge any truth, was to present it to them in such a view that they should not discern its real scope. When they saw the bearing of any question that was put to them, they would not return an answer [Note: Matthew 21:23-27.]: but, when they could see no reference to themselves, they answered readily enough [Note: Luke 7:43.]: and by this means they were often made to criminate themselves before they perceived the tendency of their own acknowledgments [Note: Matthew 21:28-32; Matthew 22:41-46.]. As David in the parable of the ewe lamb condemned with most excessive severity a conduct somewhat similar to his own, and thereby pronounced sentence against himself, when he would have denied or extenuated his guilt, if it had been charged home upon him in a more open way; so, by taking them unawares, our Lord often succeeded in confounding, and sometimes in converting, those, who would have rejected his testimony at once, if they had observed at first the full scope of his instructions.]
To prepare them for fuller instructions—
[Our Lord was willing to impart knowledge, if the people had been capable of receiving it: but it was necessary that they who had lived in such gross darkness, should be brought gradually to the light, lest they should be overpowered by too hasty a transition to the full radiance of Gospel truth. He told even his own disciples, that he had many things to say unto them; but was constrained to withhold them for the present, because of their incapacity to receive them [Note: John 16:12.]: he thought it proper to educate them as children, that he might gradually inform their minds, and mature their judgment. And this was the intent also of all his public ministrations; he administered milk to the people as babes, that they might, when grown to full age, be nourished by the strong meat which he intended afterwards to set before them.]
To render them without excuse if they should reject his word—
[Had his instructions been unseasonably clear and full, the people might have cast some reflection on their teacher as injudicious. But when he so condescended to their weakness, “they had no cloke for their sin;” they were altogether without excuse; and it was manifest beyond a doubt, that the only reason of their rejecting him was, that “they loved darkness rather than light [Note: John 3:19.].” The judgments that were to be brought upon them, were such as never had been experienced from the foundation of the world: this opportunity therefore of filling up the measure of their iniquities was given to the people of that generation, that the equity of the Divine procedure might be more manifest in their destruction.]
Let us learn from hence,
The folly and danger of prejudice in those who hear the Gospel—
[Such is the force of prejudice that it will blind the eyes, and shut the ears, and make the heart impenetrably hard. Yet how many indulge it without being at all aware of their danger! They have taken up the notion that salvation by faith is injurious to morality, and that vital godliness is enthusiasm; and will receive nothing that militates against their preconceived opinions. But let the fate of the Jews convince us of the folly and danger of such conduct: and let us seek from God that “honest and good heart,” that shall embrace with readiness, and improve with care, whatever God has revealed in his word.]
The need of wisdom in those who minister the Gospel—
[Much harm has been done to the interests of religion by an unguarded declaration even of the truth itself. Men should be considered as having prejudices which may be increased by indiscretion, or undermined by a prudent exhibition of the Gospel. St. Paul, though as far as any man from a want of zeal, was peculiarly attentive to this duty [Note: Acts 20:20. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2.]; and has left us instructions respecting it for the regulation of our own conduct [Note: Hebrews 5:12-14.]. The end of the ministry is to convert and save the souls of men: and whatever is best adapted to that end, is most worthy of our pursuit. No one should conceal the truth through the fear of man; nor should any one be backward to put a veil upon his face, when the brightness of it would defeat the end of his ministrations. Zeal and prudence should be duly combined in those to whom the care of souls is committed; and if in this respect we imitate our Lord and his Apostles, we may reasonably hope that we shall not run in vain, or labour in vain.]
Matthew 13:18. Hear ye the parable of the sower.
THE word of God, by whomsoever delivered, makes a different impression on different people. When our Lord himself preached, his discourses did not carry conviction to all: nor did his Apostles find that all would receive the truths declared by them. Thus, in this day, there is a great diversity of effect produced among the hearers of the Gospel. Our Lord foretold that this would be the case in all ages of the Church. He compared “the word of his kingdom” to seed cast into different soils; and the fruits resulting from it, to the various produce of the different grounds. In unfolding the parable of the Sower, we shall be led to notice,
The way-side hearers—
There are two things wherein careless hearers resemble seed fallen by the way-side;
They “hear the word without understanding”—
[They attend upon the ordinances merely in a customary manner. They do not go to hear with a view to obtain benefit to their souls. Their minds are occupied about something they have seen or done, or are meditating some new plans of business or pleasure. Thus, though they hear the word, they scarcely give it any attention, or attend merely to the style of composition and manner of delivery. No wonder then that they obtain no solid views of divine truth.]
They lose it without regret—
[“Satan” is more concerned with them than they are at all aware of. Like “the fowls of the air,” he hovers round them to “catch away the seed.” The word is no sooner uttered, than he turns their attention from it; nor is it difficult for him, by suggesting other thoughts, to accomplish his purpose. He well knows that, if they truly “believe the word, they will be saved” by it; and that, if they hear it with attention and candour, they cannot but believe it. Hence he labours incessantly to divert their minds from it. If, after all, some scattered truths remain upon the mind, they are speedily “trodden down” by the incidental occurrences of the day.]
These, it is to be feared, are by far the most numerous class of hearers. But there are some to whom the word seems not to come in vain:
The stony-ground hearers—
These, though equally hard as to their hearts, differ widely from the former—
They “embrace the word gladly”—
[Their affections, like a thin coat of earth upon a rock, “receive the word.” The novelty of it, and their hope of an interest in it, delights their mind. They are moved at the sufferings of Christ, or the promises of the Gospel, as they would be at any good news, or pathetic story. “Immediately” they begin to make a profession of religion, and seem to surpass many who have been longer instructed in the way.]
But they “renounce it again speedily”—
[They never were deeply convinced of sin, nor felt their need of Christ. They embraced the Gospel, without ever seriously counting the cost. Ere long, they find that they have to endure “persecution for the word’s sake:” this, like “the sun” in its brightness, penetrates through the surface of their affections, and burns up the seed, which was “never rooted” in their understanding and will; then they renounce their profession as speedily as they had taken it up, and either “secretly decline” from the society to which they were attached, or “openly proclaim the disgust,” with which their late pretensions have inspired them.]
Nor are these the only persons who disappoint the hopes of the sower:
The thorny-ground hearers—
These are a class who more nearly resemble that of true Christians; but though their profession is more specious, their end is not more happy.
They maintain a religious character to the end—
[They do not disregard the word like the way-side hearers, or cast away their profession like those of the stony ground. They maintain, for the most part, an uniform regard to the Gospel; they associate with the people of God in preference to all others; they worship God in their closet and family, as well as in the public assembly; nor do they live in any practices which are grossly inconsistent with their character.]
But the fruit which they produce is not of a “perfect” kind—
[They were never thoroughly purged from “the thorns” which were natural to the soil. “The cares or pleasures of this world” still continue to corrode their hearts. There is always “something which they desire” more than real holiness. Thus the nutriment of the soil is withdrawn by noxious roots, and the influences of the air and sun “obstructed” by surrounding branches. Hence their fruit is never properly matured and ripened. Their confessions want that tenderness of spirit that argues them sincere; their prayers, that holy importunity, which alone ensures success; their praises, that love and fervour, which alone can make them acceptable. The whole obedience of their lives is destitute of that divine energy, which results from the operation of God’s Spirit.]
The seed however that is sown is not wholly unproductive—
The good-ground hearers—
There is a most essential difference between these and the preceding characters—
They receive the word with humility—
[All the other characters have the soil itself depraved; but these receive the word into “honest and good hearts.” Not that their hearts are altogether free from human depravity; but they have an upright intention and desire to profit. They neither cavil at the word, nor endeavour to pervert its meaning. They wish to be instructed by it, and to fulfil whatever it requires. In hearing it, they apply it as the word of God addressed to their souls, and they (which is not said respecting any of the others) “understand it.” They see its import, taste its sweetness, and embrace it as suited to their case.]
They improve it with diligence—
[They are careful to “bring forth the fruits” of righteousness. “Not” that all of them accomplish their wishes “in an equal degree.” Splendid talents, extensive influence, or favourable occasions may enable some to distinguish themselves from others. On the other hand; poverty and seclusion may cause the light of others to be more obscured. Degrees of grace too, like a kindlier climate and a richer soil, make an abundant difference in degrees of fruitfulness. Some, like St. Paul, have no delight but in adoring and serving God: they burn with love, not towards their friends only, but their most cruel enemies; and all their tempers, wishes, thoughts, are cast into the mould of the Gospel. Others, though less eminent, are filled with zeal in their Master’s cause: if they be not borne as on seraphs’ wings, they run eagerly as in a race; and, though labouring under some infirmities, they bear much of their Saviour’s image. Nor are they who are least fruitful satisfied with their attainment: they uniformly conflict with sin, and long to be holy as God is holy.]
[Let us “hear this parable,” not to judge others, but ourselves. Let us examine to which of the foregoing classes we belong: What has been the disposition with which we have heard the word? What the benefits we have received from the preached Gospel? Have we laboured to treasure up the truth of God in our hearts? Has it overpowered the corrupt desires which would obstruct its growth? And are we rising daily beyond the form, to the life and power of godliness? Surely neither Christ nor any faithful “sower of the word” will account his toil repaid if he see not this fruit of his labours. Let us not then be satisfied with being “almost,” and not “altogether,” Christians. If the word produce not, its full effect, it will convey no benefit at all. If it destroy not the noxious weeds, the weeds will certainly destroy it. If it be not “a savour of life unto life, it will be of death unto death.” Whatever profession men may make, none but the good-ground hearers will be saved at last. Let us now then guard against the devices of our great enemy. Let us watch that he take not the seed out of our hearts. Let us harrow it in, as it were, by meditation and prayer: and, however fruitful we have been, let us labour to abound more and more [Note: The observations made in this Discourse being almost wholly confined to the parable itself, it may suffice to refer to that. See Matthew 13:3-8; Matthew 13:18-23.Mark 4:3-8; Mark 4:3-8; Mark 4:14-20. Luke 8:4-15. The words marked with inverted commas allude particularly to the parable.].]
LEAVEN HID IN MEAL
Matthew 13:33. Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
AS our Lord was not weary of multiplying his parables, so neither should we be of considering them. There is indeed an inexhaustible variety in them; and in those, which most resemble each other, there will be found a rich and instructive diversity. Scarcely any two are more alike than this and the one which precedes it. But that declares the extensive spread of the Gospel from small beginnings, and this its assimilating and transforming efficacy. In tracing the parallel between the Gospel kingdom and leaven hid in the meal, we shall find that they are,
Assimilating in their nature—
[Leaven changes not the substance of the meal in which it is hid, but materially alters its qualities: it so impregnates the meal as to transform it, as it were, into its own likeness. Thus does the Gospel affect those who receive it into their hearts: it makes us partakers of a Divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]. It does not indeed essentially change either the faculties of the soul, or the members of the body; but it communicates to them a new life and power, a new direction and tendency. The Gospel is compared to a mould, into which souls, when melted by Divine grace, are cast [Note: Romans 6:17. This seems to be the proper meaning of εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχῆς, though it is not so expressed in our translation.], and from which they derive a new and heavenly form. Hence, when converted by it, we are said to be renewed after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:23-24.]; and the more this leaven works within us, the more are we changed into Christ’s image, from glory to glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].
The same effect does the Gospel produce also in the world at large: wherever it prevails, it invariably brings men to the same mind, temper, and disposition. All are rendered vile in their own eyes; all are made willing to receive mercy through Christ alone; and all pant after holiness, as the perfection of their nature and the summit of their bliss. There is indeed a great diversity of parties and opinions respecting things of smaller moment; but in the fundamental points all are agreed, and, when upon their knees before God, have the most perfect resemblance to each other. Being joined to the Lord they are one spirit with him, and with each other [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.]. The same spirit pervades both the Head and all the members. Hence all true Christians of every place and every age are “one bread,” being impregnated with the same heavenly leaven, and formed into one mass for the service of their common Lord and Master [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:17.].]
The resemblance further appears, in that both of them are,
Mysterious in their operation—
[How, in the leavening of meal, the one substance acts upon the other so as to produce a fermentation, is a mystery, which the wisest philosophers are not able to explain. The secret energy of the leaven is discoverable in its effects; but the precise mode of its operation cannot be ascertained. The same difficulty occurs in explaining the operation of the Gospel on the hearts of men: its truths have an energy that is not found in any thing else. The word is quick, and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating the very inmost recesses of the soul [Note: Hebrews 4:12.]. But how this leaven, as soon as it is put into the heart, begins to work, how it operates with such invincible power, and how it uniformly changes, as well the most guilty and obdurate hearts, as those which seem more likely to yield to its impressions—this is indeed a mystery. The effects produced by it are evident and undeniable; but how it produces those effects so as to transform the vilest sinner into the very image of God, is known to God alone. On account of this mysterious property, our Lord compared the Gospel to the wind, which, though manifest enough in its effects, is in many respects inexplicable [Note: John 3:8.].
If the Gospel be so mysterious in its operation upon individuals, it must of necessity be so too in its operations upon the world at large. We pretend not to say how the simple doctrine of the cross should be made to triumph over all the prejudices and passions of mankind; but, from what we have already seen, we cannot doubt of its final success.]
Lastly, they are both,
Universal in their influence—
[Leaven, when it has begun to work, never ceases till it has leavened all the meal. Thus does the Gospel also work in the hearts of men. It changes, not their outward conduct only, but the inward dispositions of the heart. Both body and soul are thoroughly renewed by it; not indeed perfectly as to the degree, but universally in all their members and all their faculties. Their members are made instruments of righteousness [Note: Romans 6:13.], and their faculties are filled with light and holiness. The man is made altogether “a new creature; old things are passed away, and all things are become new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].”
Thus will the world also be regenerated by the grace of the Gospel. “Those who are now sitting in darkness and the shadow of death shall behold its light,” and those who are abandoned to the most brutish lusts and ignorance, shall be transformed into the very image of their God. This leaven has long been put into the great mass of mankind: it has already raised a ferment throughout a great part of the world, and in due season shall “leaven the whole lump.” Though its progress be but slow at present, it shall work, till it has pervaded every soul, and “brought all nations to the obedience of faith.”]
The parable, thus explained, is of signal use,
To rectify our judgment—
[Some think that they have the grace of God, while yet they have never experienced any change in their souls; while others, on account of the commotion raised there, are ready to despond, as though they were utterly abandoned by God. But both of these may see their error, if they will duly consider this parable. To the former we could say, can leaven be put into the meal and no fermentation be produced? much less can the grace of God be in the heart and cause no commotion there. Be assured it will work as it did on the day of Pentecost, and cause you to cry out with earnestness, “What shall I do to be saved?” Yea more, if it do not continue to operate, if it do not gradually pervade all your powers, and progressively change them into your Saviour’s image, you may be sure that the leaven of Divine grace has never yet been put into your hearts. To the latter we would say, be not discouraged at the commotion in your soul; but be thankful for it. It is infinitely better to know our guilt and danger than to be lulled asleep in a fatal security. Your disquietude affords reason to hope that God has caused the heavenly leaven to blend itself with your souls. Give it time then to work. If it be of God, it shall stand; and the effects produced shall discover the true cause from whence they sprang. O beg of God that it may work effectually, and that it may never cease till it has made you “perfect and complete in all his will.”]
To reform our hearts—
[The true and uniform tendency of the Gospel has been abundantly manifest. It is incumbent therefore on every one to ask himself. What reason have I to think that this “kingdom of God is within me [Note: Luke 17:21.]?” What change has it wrought. what assimilating and transforming efficacy has it discovered? There is, it is true, a leaven in the heart of natural men; but it is either a “leaven of malice and wickedness [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:8.],” or a “leaven of hypocrisy [Note: Luke 12:1.]:” whichever of these it be, it must be “purged out, that they may become a new lump [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:7.].” Their souls must be impregnated with a very different leaven, even that of grace and truth. Let us then “hide the word of God within us,” that by its influence we may be renewed [Note: Psalms 119:11.]. Let our prayer be, Lord, “sanctify me through thy truth [Note: John 17:17.].” And “may the very God of peace sanctify us wholly, that thus our whole body, soul and spirit, may be preserved blameless unto his heavenly kingdom [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.]!”]
Matthew 13:36. His disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
THERE is much in the Holy Scriptures which unenlightened reason cannot comprehend. Hence the proud and self-sufficient continue ignorant of many truths. But they who seek Divine teaching have more enlarged views. God can “reveal to babes what he hides from the wise and prudent.” Nor will he leave any in darkness who pray for his Spirit. The Apostles set us an example worthy of our imitation. Our Lord delivered many parables which none clearly understood. But while the Scribes and Pharisees stumbled at them, the more teachable Apostles entreated their Lord to explain their import. Both the parable of the tares and the explanation of it are contained in this chapter [Note: ver. 24–30 and 37–43.].
To elucidate it more fully, we observe, that the members of Christ’s visible Church resemble wheat and tares growing together;
In their present growth—
The Church, like a field in which different grains are sown, contains persons of very different characters—
[Jesus sows much “good seed” in this wretched world: whatever use he makes of his ministers, the glory is his alone. But “Satan” is indefatigable in “sowing bad seed” in the Church: he takes advantage of the sloth and carelessness of Christ’s servants [Note: ver. 25.], and raises up hypocrites wherever Christ raises his elect.]
These grow together to the grief of all who are truly upright—
[Faithful ministers carry their complaints to their Lord and Master; and from zeal for his honour would pluck up the tares [Note: ver. 27.]: but God will not suffer them to make this arduous attempt. No man whatever is capable of distinguishing all characters. Many, who have specious appearances, would be left by us as wheat; while many, who are inwardly sincere, would be plucked up as tares. From regard to these God commands us to forbear [Note: ver. 29 and Matthew 18:14.]. He suffers us indeed, and commands us, to exclude the notoriously profligate; but he reserves to himself the office of judging the hearts of men. Till the harvest day therefore we must expect this mixture. Nor will it, in the issue, prove injurious to the saints. They are now stirred up the more to watchfulness and prayer; and hypocrites themselves have the offers of grace and mercy continued to them.]
The reproach occasioned by this will all be wiped away,
In their future separation—
The day of judgment is as the harvest—
[The angels are represented by our Lord as his angels; and these he will use as his reapers [Note: ver. 39.]. He will endue them with wisdom to discern the characters of all, and will guide them infallibly in the execution of his will.]
Then the different characters shall be separated from each other—
[The “tares” are they who “offend,” that is, by a false profession cause others to stumble at the ways of God [Note: ver. 41.]; and they, who, making no profession, “commit iniquity” without restraint. All these shall be gathered first and “bound up in bundles [Note: ver. 30.].” Thus will they, who have been partners in sin, be made partners in misery. Alas! what groups of profane persons, formalists, and hypocrites, will then be bound together! May “our souls never be gathered with these;” but be “bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord our God [Note: Psalms 26:9. 1 Samuel 25:29.]!” The “wheat” are “the righteous,” who are renewed in the spirit of their minds: they too shall be gathered in order to receive their portion.]
What a wonderful, but awful separation will there then be!
[Among the tares, not so much as one grain of wheat will be found: nor among the righteous will there be left one ungodly person. The ungodly husband shall be torn from the arms of his compassionate wife, and the profane child from the bosom of his religious parent. God will shew no respect to one rather than another. The wicked, stript of their veils, will be consigned over to punishment; and the righteous, freed from mutual jealousies, shall unite in perfect harmony.]
The awfulness of this separation will be more fully seen,
In their eternal destiny—
The wicked will “first” receive the doom for which they are reserved—
[They will be cast, like worthless tares, into the furnace [Note: ver. 42.]; nor, however God pities them now, will he shew them any mercy then. Not that the fire shall consume them utterly as it would tares: to prevent this mistake, the metaphor is intentionally changed. They will “wail” the mercies they have despised and the opportunities they have lost: they will “gnash their teeth” with anguish and vexation of spirit—against themselves (like a ruined gamester) for their folly—against each other, for having enticed each other to sin—against God, with impotent malice, for so punishing their transgressions [Note: Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11.]. And this doom will be inflicted “first” in the very sight of the godly [Note: ver. 30.]. Thus will the godly see how great mercy they have received.]
The righteous will then receive the kingdom prepared for them—
[They, as wheat, shall be treasured up in the granary of heaven. Not that they shall continue there in a state of inactivity. To correct this idea the metaphor here is also changed. God himself will not be ashamed to be called “their Father.” They shall shine forth in his kingdom like the sun. Their splendour shall burst forth as from behind a cloud [Note: Ἐκλάμψουσιν.]. They delighted to enjoy God; they shall now see him face to face. They longed to glorify God; they shall now have every faculty employed in his service for evermore.]
The most suitable improvement is suggested by our Lord himself [Note: ver. 43.]—
Let the profane “hear”—
[You can be at no loss to determine whether ye be tares or wheat: your conduct will decide that point beyond a doubt [Note: 1 John 3:7-8.]. And are you willing to be daily ripening for the furnace? Know that, as ye are at death, ye will continue to all eternity. But ye may now be changed from tares to wheat. Though this change cannot take place in nature, it can in the kingdom of grace. Entreat the Lord then that ye may become new creatures [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.]. All that are now in the granary of heaven were once as ye are [Note: Eph 2:3 and Galatians 4:12. in the Greek.]; and ye, if ye will seek the Lord, shall become as they are.]
Let self-deceivers hear—
[It is in vain to think yourselves the Lord’s people when ye are not. Inquire whether ye have been truly born again [Note: John 3:3.]? See whether ye differ from the world, and from your former selves, as much as wheat differs from tares. Be not satisfied with “a form of godliness,” and “a name to live.” The day of final separation is near at hand: let every day therefore be spent in earnest preparation for it.]
Let the upright also hear—
[The unavoidable mixture in the Church is doubtless a burthen to you; and if you be not careful, it may also become a snare: but, without judging others, strive to approve yourselves to God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.]. Speedily will the period of your happiness arrive. Look forward then to death, with composure and gratitude; regard it as the waggons sent to convey you home; and, till it arrive, be praying for the influences of the sun and rain. So shall you be gathered in due season as a shock that is ripe, and be transported with joy to your eternal rest.]
THE HIDDEN TREASURE
Matthew 13:44. The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in afield; the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
THE Gospel, as viewed in various lights, admits of various representations. It is generally set forth as small in its beginnings, but increasing in importance. But we must not therefore suppose it to be of small value. Our Lord sufficiently guards against this mistake by the parable before us. He shews us, that the Gospel, even while hid from our view, is exceeding precious—
It will be proper to shew,
Why the kingdom of heaven is likened to a “treasure hid”—
“The kingdom of heaven” is an expression peculiar to the New Testament—
[By it we are not always to understand heaven itself; it is frequently used to signify Christ’s spiritual kingdom; and it is so called, because it is the re-establishment of God’s empire over the hearts of men, and because what is thus begun in grace will be consummated in glory.]
This may well be considered as “a treasure”—
[There is no other thing so deserving of this name. Every one that is possessed of it may say with truth, “All things are mine [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21.].” He is “blessed—with all spiritual blessings—in heavenly things—in Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:3.].” Every earthly pleasure is contemptible in comparison of it.]
But it is compared to a treasure “hid in a field”—
[The mysteries of the Gospel were from eternity hid in the bosom of the Father [Note: Ephesians 3:9.]. Neither men nor angels could possibly have devised them. Who could have thought of bringing man back to God through the death of God’s only Son? And of reducing him to a willing subjection by the operation of God’s Spirit? A finite mind could never have conceived such an idea: but these mysteries, though revealed, are still hid from the natural man [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. They still appear foolishness, and are a stumbling-block to many [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.]. Paul, though so learned and religious, could not receive them in his unconverted state [Note: Acts 22:3-4.]: nor would he ever have embraced them, if God had not opened his eyes [Note: Acts 9:17-18.]. The Apostles, though instructed by our Lord himself all the time of his ministry, needed, after all, a divine illumination [Note: Luke 24:45.]: nor is a spirit of revelation less necessary for us. To this very hour there is as much ground as ever for that devout acknowledgment [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.]—The “field” indeed, wherein the treasure is hid. is open and accessible to all [Note: John 5:39.]; but we shall perish for lack of it. unless God do for us as he did for Hagar [Note: Genesis 21:16; Genesis 21:19.]. We must all adopt the prayer of David [Note: Psalms 119:18.]—]
Its intrinsic worth. joined with the difficulty of finding it, must render the acquisition delightful.
The emotions which a discovery of it will produce—
The illustration given by our Lord is peculiarly apt. A man who should find a treasure, would have a conflict in his mind—
[He would congratulate himself on his good fortune, and rejoice in his prospect of possessing so much wealth; but he would feel some dread of detection. He would fear lest another should see it, before he had an opportunity of securing it for himself. He would cover it up carefully, if he could not then carry it away; and if by purchasing the field he could gain the treasure, he would gladly pay down the price. In doing this he would use all the expedition and caution that he could; nor would he hesitate to sell all that he had, in order to complete the purchase.]
Thus is a man affected who finds the Gospel salvation—
[He is filled with joy at the glad tidings that he hears [Note: Matthew 13:20.]; he indulges a hope that he may be interested in them; he anticipates the happiness of having his sins forgiven, and of being made an heir of the heavenly inheritance. Still, however, he is not without many misgiving fears. He knows that Satan is watching to steal away the treasure [Note: Luke 8:12.]; nor can he tell but that that serpent may beguile him [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3.]. He sees too that the world may deprive him of his hope [Note: Mark 4:19.]. Yea, he perceives in his own heart a proneness to despise the proffered mercy [Note: Matthew 22:5.]. Thus is he agitated between hope and fear. This effect was predicted by the prophets of old [Note: Isaiah 60:5.Jeremiah 33:9; Jeremiah 33:9.], and it was, on one occasion at least, experienced by the Apostles [Note: Matthew 28:8.]: but, in the midst of all, he is determined, if possible, to possess the treasure. He undervalues every thing that can stand in competition with it; he well knows that, whatever he pay for it, he can be no loser; he approves in his heart the conduct of St. Paul [Note: Galatians 1:16.]—and is resolved to follow the advice of Solomon [Note: Proverbs 23:23.]—]
[The field, which contains this treasure, is nigh at hand. The owner invites all to go and seek the treasure: he promises that all who seek in earnest shall find it [Note: Matthew 7:7-8.]; yea, moreover, that all who find, shall retain it [Note: Proverbs 8:35.]. Let those then who have never found it, begin to seek. But let them adopt that prayer of the Apostle [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.]—The Holy Spirit alone can give success to their endeavours [Note: John 16:13-14.]. And let them bear in mind the misery of those who fail [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.]. If any have found it, let them hold fast the prize [Note: Revelation 2:25; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 3:11.]; let them guard against every thing that may rob them of it; let them remember, it is not a small treasure, but an inexhaustible mine. Let them never regret any sacrifice they may make for it, but look forward to the complete enjoyment of it in heaven.]
THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
Matthew 13:45-46. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
MEN are not easily wearied with renewed prospects of gain. Advantageous bargains may be offered with the greatest frequency without fear of creating disgust. Our Lord well knew that a love of earthly things was deeply rooted in our hearts, and availed himself of that knowledge the more forcibly to impress our minds with better things. He repeatedly commended his Gospel to us under the figure of a great temporal acquisition. In its general scope this parable agrees with that which precedes it. But it suggests many thoughts that are new and important.
To elucidate it we may consider,
In what respects the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a pearl—
The comparison is not properly between the kingdom and a merchant-man, but the kingdom and a pearl. The kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of grace established in the world; and it may be compared to a pearl as enriching. Some pearls are of very great value, and would be an ample fortune to a person who had nothing else. The Gospel kingdom also is of inestimable value to us,
In this world—
[It unfolds to our view the deepest mysteries, and gives a just comprehension of all spiritual things. It is said to contain “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Colossians 2:3.]; it must therefore greatly enrich its possessor [Note: Proverbs 3:13-15.]. The Gospel moreover imparts grace to the soul; nor can this grace be ever appreciated too highly. Our Lord tells us that it will make us truly rich [Note: Revelation 3:18.]. Through the Gospel also we obtain peace in our consciences. Who can declare the value of this to a heavy-laden soul? It surpasses all estimation, as well as all understanding [Note: Philippians 4:7.].]
In the next world—
[The Gospel does not enrich us merely like other estates. We can hold earthly things no longer than this present life; but the benefits of the Gospel continue with us for ever. We have a more ample possession of them in the next world. Then we shall have a glorious, and incorruptible inheritance, of which earthly crowns and kingdoms convey a very faint idea. What is spoken of the Christian’s present portion may still more properly be spoken of that which he will hereafter enjoy [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9.]. Well therefore might St. Paul represent the Gospel in such exalted terms [Note: Ephesians 3:8.]—]
The Gospel kingdom may also be compared to a pearl as adorning—
[Pearls are considered as ornamental to the body; but infinitely more does the Gospel adorn the soul.]
It changes the life—
[Even the most abandoned of men have yielded to its power, and that figurative representation has been realized by them [Note: Isaiah 11:6-8.]—]
It purifies the heart—
[The most inveterate corruptions have been mortified by it [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:11-12.], and the most heavenly dispositions implanted in their stead [Note: 1 John 3:3.].]
It transforms into the Divine image—
[It finds men altogether “alienated from the life of God,” and bearing the character of Satan’s children [Note: John 8:44.]: but it renews them in all their faculties, and restores them to the very image of their God [Note: Ephesians 4:24.]. This effect is ascribed to it by St. Paul himself [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.]—How just then is that expression of the Psalmist [Note: Psalms 149:4.]—! And with what propriety may the Christian exult with the prophet [Note: Isaiah 61:10.]—!]
With such views of the Gospel we can be at no loss to determine,
How it will be regarded by those who know its value—
It is not possible for them to regard it with indifference:
They will seek it with diligence—
[Merchants spare no pains in the pursuit of gain; much less will they who know the value of the Gospel. They will study that book wherein it is contained. They will seek instruction from those who are best qualified to explain its mysteries. They will cry to God for the teaching of his Spirit. Nor will they be satisfied with obtaining a superficial knowledge of the truth. They will follow the direction of Solomon [Note: Proverbs 2:4.]—and account its blessings a rich compensation for their trouble.]
They will part with all for it:
Their carnal enjoyments—
[It calls them to sacrifice their dearest interests, and to give up their nearest relatives for Christ’s sake [Note: Matthew 10:37.]. Nor will they exclaim against this as “an hard saying.” They will not act like the Rich Youth who forsook Christ [Note: Mark 10:22.]. They will rather part with any thing, however precious, or however necessary [Note: Matthew 5:29-30.].]
Their self-righteous hopes—
[There is nothing which men are more averse to renounce than their own righteousness: but a discovery of the Gospel will humble them. It will constrain them to use the language of the prophet [Note: Isaiah 64:6.]—Every Christian will resemble Paul in this [Note: Philippians 3:7-9.].]
Their very life itself—
[The love of life is inherent in us all: but the Gospel teaches us to overcome it. It requires us even to hate our lives in comparison of Christ [Note: Luke 14:26.]. A view of it will enable us to do this, and will cause us to say like the holy Apostle [Note: Acts 20:24.]—]
What is the daily object of our pursuit?
[Are we seeking knowledge, wealth, pleasure, honour, &c. or the establishment of this kingdom in our hearts? Let us fear lest we never should obtain this invaluable pearl; and let us follow the direction of our blessed Lord [Note: Matthew 6:33.]—]
What have we parted with for the Gospel’s sake?
[We are not persecuted now as in former ages; but every man is called to make some sacrifices. What then have we forfeited for the sake of Christ? If we were suffered to retain only one thing, what should that one thing be? Remember, God requires a single eye, and an undivided heart [Note: Luke 11:34-35.].]
If you have purchased this pearl, what are you doing with it?
[It is not to be locked up, as it were, in a cabinet. You must indeed keep it carefully as a rich treasure; but you must also wear it about you as an ornament. It should have the effect on you, that converse with God produced on Moses [Note: Exodus 34:35.]. In this way you will commend it to the world, and will most acceptably comply with our Lord’s direction [Note: Matthew 5:16.]—]
Matthew 13:47-50. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it urns full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
MEN are forcibly impressed by similes taken from things with which they are well acquainted. Hence the various parables are suited to those classes of the community, who are conversant in the occupations to which they relate. The greater part of them refer to the different employments of husbandry, because our Lord sojourned chiefly among persons engaged in agricultural pursuits. But he was also frequently called to instruct fishermen; to whose more immediate use he adapted the parable before us.
In order to elucidate the text we observe that,
variety of persons are gathered by the Gospel into the visible Church—
The Gospel is preached promiscuously to all—
[When a net is cast into the sea, the fisherman knows not what success he shall have: he may toil all the night and catch nothing; or may inclose a number that can with difficulty be drawn to shore [Note: Luke 5:5-6.]. However skilful he may be in his trade, he is dependent wholly on the good providence of God.
Thus the Gospel is published to all without any respect of persons. Nor can the preachers of it command success: if Paul or Apollos labour, it is God alone that can render their endeavours effectual to the salvation of men [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:7.].]
There are however many, for the most part, brought by means of it to a profession of religion—
[Where nothing but morality is preached, the people all remain stupid and unconcerned about their souls: but where Christ is truly exalted, some will feel the constraining influence of the word [Note: Jeremiah 23:22.], and he drawn out of the vain world to an attendance on the duties of religion. But of these there will be various kinds: some will go no further than the mere form of godliness [Note: 2 Timothy 3:5.]; others will seem to enjoy somewhat of its life and power, while in reality they have no stability in the ways of God [Note: ver. 20, 21.], or, though they persevere in their profession of religion, they do not walk worthy of their high calling [Note: ver. 22.] — — — There will be others, however, who are truly upright before God, and who “adorn the Gospel of God our Saviour in all things.”
All these persons will be collected into a visible Church; all will profess an attachment to the Gospel: and all will feel some kind of confidence respecting their final acceptance before God.]
Of those that are so gathered, there will be an awful separation in the day of judgment—
Fishermen will not encumber themselves with fishes that are worthless; nor will God receive to himself all that are gathered by the Gospel.
There will be a separation made in the day of judgment—
[God makes use of men to collect persons into the visible Church; but he will employ “angels” as his agents to “separate the bad from the good.” Nor will they, when action under the direction of the Most High, be liable to the smallest error. They will see with one glance of their eye, who have been justified in Christ Jesus, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. No fisherman can distinguish between the most different sorts of fish more clearly than the angels will, between the weakest of the saints, and the most refined of hypocrites. Not one that is truly good, shall be cast away; nor one that is really bad, be preserved.]
That separation will be inexpressibly awful—
[Here the parable was inadequate to convey the truth; and therefore our Lord added a further explanation of it. Fishes that are cast away suffer no otherwise than in meeting death a little sooner than those that are reserved in vessels. But it is not thus with souls that are cast away; for they shall be “cast into a furnace of fire, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth for ever” — — — O fearful end! how inconceivably different from that of those who shall be treasured up in vessels as “meet for their Master’s use!” — — —]
How diligently should we attend the ordinances of the Gospel!
[Ministers are made “fishers of men;” and their one employment is to “catch men [Note: Matthew 4:19. Luke 5:10.].” (This, my brethren, is the office which I am executing for God at this very moment: I am labouring to catch your souls for God.) Now it is in the ordinances that they go forth to cast their net: and if persons do not attend the ordinances, there is no probability of their ever being drawn to God [Note: Romans 10:17.]. Let not any trifling matters then be suffered to detain us from the house of God; for we cannot tell the precise time at which God has designed to enclose us in his net. And what a loss should we sustain, if through absence we deprived ourselves of that benefit! Let us then not only come to the house of God, but beg him to instruct his servants how to cast the net in the most advantageous manner [Note: John 21:6.], benefit, and for his glory.]
How careful should we be not to rest in an unsound profession of religion!
[It is not every one that is gathered by the Gospel, that shall enjoy its saving benefits. Many there are who approve of the truth, and take pleasure in hearing it proclaimed [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.], who yet shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven. Let all then judge themselves by the marks exhibited in the Holy Scriptures. Let them inquire whether, if the separation were at this instant to be made, they should be found amongst the good or the bad, among those that are truly alive to God, or those who, though they “have a name to live, are really dead” before God [Note: Revelation 3:1.]. Let it be remembered that the net is now spread, and that we are now enclosed in it; and, though we do not immediately perceive it, the net is at this moment drawing to shore. My dear brethren, I tremble to think how many of us will ere long be irrecoverably cast into a furnace of fire, and with what bitter “wailings,” and self-condemning “gnashing of their teeth,” they will look back upon the warnings they have despised, and the opportunities they have lost. Speedily, speedily will the scrutiny be made; and then the final separation. May God of his infinite mercy prepare us all for that awful day, by renewing our natures, and accepting us in his beloved Son; that so we may be numbered with the good, and be approved of our God for ever and ever!]
Matthew 13:52. Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder. which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
IT is of importance to all, but especially to those who are to teach others, that they understand clearly the mysteries of the Gospel. An ignorant minister, like an empty cloud or a leaky vessel, disappoints those who expect consolation and refreshment from him. But a well-instructed Scribe or minister resembles a housekeeper or steward, who, having made good provision for the family, feeds them to the full. With this comparison our Lord gave his attentive and intelligent disciples, a view of the office which would in due season be committed to them. The resemblance of every such minister to a householder may be traced in that,
He is provided with all things necessary for the family over whom he is placed—
A steward, or householder, has the charge of providing for the family. He considers not only what is wanting at the present moment, but what will be wanted on future occasions; and he preserves for future use the productions of foreign climes, or of successive seasons. Thus every pious minister labours to provide for the Church of God.
He makes himself acquainted with the wants of all his people—
[The Church, over which he is made an overseer, is God’s family. To supply their returning wants is his peculiar duty. Hence he is led to reflect upon their various states. He contemplates the difficulties and dangers to which they are exposed, the trials and temptations which they have to sustain, and the consolations and supports which they severally need; and thus he endeavours to learn what will be most suitable to their respective cases.]
He lays up in store what he may afterwards bring forth for their use—
[The Scriptures are the grand repository of sacred knowledge. These therefore he searches with all diligence, and “treasures” up with care. But while he furnishes his mind with “old things,” he is observant also of “new.” What he daily sees, or hears, or feels, is added carefully to his stock. Thus his knowledge becomes enlarged by observation, and matured by experience; and his fund of information is suited to the necessities of all to whom he ministers.]
In prosecuting his work,
He dispenses seasonably to each according to their respective wants—
A householder, or steward, furnishes out of his store what is wanted for daily use, and apportions to all the branches of the family what is suited to their respective stations. Thus a well-instructed minister demeans himself in the Church of Christ:
He gives to all an agreeable variety—
[Though Christ and his salvation be the great topic of his discourses, he descends, on proper occasions, to many other subjects connected with it. He opens the mysteries of the “Old” Testament, and illustrates them by the “New.” He declares what God has asserted in his word, and confirms it by appeals to acknowledged facts, and to the experience of all around him. And though “it is not grievous to him to repeat” the great truths of the Gospel, he endeavours continually to diversify them in his statements, and to give them an air of novelty in his illustration of them.]
He administers to each his proper portion—
[To those whose growth in grace enables them to digest strong meat, he explains the deep mysteries of religion, and the more hidden parts of Christian experience. To those who can only feed on milk, he contents himself with proposing simply the great doctrines of our fall in Adam, and our recovery by Christ, together with the life of faith on Christ Jesus. he considers the peculiar experiences incident to different states, and discriminates between that which is correct, and that which is delusive, in them all. He gives the cup of consolation to the drooping penitent, or doubting believer, but holds forth the waters of jealousy to those who are of suspicious character [Note: Numbers 5:11-31.]. Thus, neither disabled by ignorance nor kept back by sloth, neither bribed by affection nor deterred by fear, he “gives to each his portion of bread in due season.”]
The vast importance of the ministerial office—
[If we had only to provide for the body, it were but a small matter; but the souls of thousands depend on those who minister in holy things. Well may we say, “Who is sufficient for these things [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.]?” May all who have undertaken the office of the ministry, have grace to qualify themselves for it with unremitting diligence, and to execute it with undeviating fidelity!]
The benefit arising from it to the Church—
[How ill supplied would every member of a family be, if each were left to provide for himself; and how injurious would such a distraction be to their respective callings! Much more would these inconveniences be felt, if there were no stated ministry. People are sadly ignorant of the Gospel, notwithstanding all their advantages: but, without a stated ministry, they would soon degenerate into very heathens. Let all then be thankful that the Master of the family has appointed stewards to make suitable provision for them. Let them pray that their ministers may be taught of God to teach others [Note: This, together with that which follows, may be amplified in a way of direct address.]; and let them improve with diligence the ordinances dispensed among them.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34