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The parable of the sower and the seed: the exposition of it. The parable of the tares, of the mustard-seed, of the leaven, of the hidden treasure, of the pearl, of the draw-net cast into the sea: and how Christ is contemned of his own country-men.
Anno Domini 30.
Matthew 13:1-2. The same day— This is the plain and literal meaning of the original, and it may be understood of the day when the mother and relations of our Saviour came to him. It must however be observed, that this expression is not always to be taken literally, but may only signify at that time, or on a certain day,—on one of those days, as St. Luke words it, Luke 5:17. It seems the calumnies of the Pharisees had not the effect intended; for the crowd was now become so great, that neither the house, nor the court before it, could contain the people who came; Jesus therefore carried them out to the sea-side, and taught them: and because there were many still coming and going, he judged it necessary to enter into a boat, for the conveniency of being heard and seen by all, which he might easily be, if the shore thereabouts was somewhat circular and declining, after the manner of an amphitheatre. Thus commodiously seated in the vessel, he delivered many doctrines of the highest importance, making choice of such for the subject of his sermons, when he had the greatest number of hearers, because there was a probability of doing the most good by them.
Matthew 13:3. He spake many things unto them in parables— The word παραβολη, which we translate parable, signifies a comparison or simile; a transferring of the ideas or properties which are in one subject generally familiar and well known, to another less known and understood, in order to heighten and enliven that other the more to the mind. It is a putting of one thing for another, that the matter intended to be taught may not immediately appear from the bare letter, and the case put;but when the key is given may strike more fully and strongly on the mind; for a parable is exactly what we call "putting a case;" when one thing is said and supposed, with a design to teach, illustrate, and enforce, some other. Such are our Saviour's parables; so that, to understand them, we must look beyond the letter; in such as he has not himself interpreted, we shall find the key either from his general application, or from the connection wherein the parable stands with his miracles or his discourses. And while, carefully attending hereto, we explain the other circumstances agreeably to the subject in hand, and the analogy of faith, there is no doubt but we shall obtain all the profit which was intended to be conveyed to us by this most pleasing, beautiful, and persuasive method of instruction. That parables were very familiar, and much in use among the Eastern nations, and particularly those of Palestine, we learn from the concurrent evidence of all writers on the subject; and, for the most part, as Sir Isaac Newton (on Daniel, p. 148.) observes, "Both Christ, and his forerunner John, as well as the old prophets, were wont in their parabolical discourses to allude to things present, and such as immediately offered themselves." See the note on ch. Matthew 5:1; Matthew 5:14. These are some of the reasons why our Saviour spoke in parables: 1st, As a judicial punishment upon those who were hardened against, and ill disposed to the truth; and sometimes as a more lively method to convince and confute them, even from their own mouths: 2nd, As a means to awaken the attention and whet the inquiry of those who were well disposed, and to lead them to a serious examination and diligent searching after the truth, as a method the most natural, beautiful, and instructive, to teach, from common and familiar objects, the most divine and important lessons, and to imprint them on the memory. 3rdly, As a veil to the mysteries of his kingdom, and a method less offensive to convey some very ungrateful and unpalatable truths, such particularly as the rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, &c. 4thly, Asa lesson of man's natural blindness and ignorance in spiritual matters, unless Christ, by his grace, opens the understanding and enlightens the mind. And all this, 5thly, to fulfil the prophesies concerning him in this respect, as well as to comply with the customs and manners of the nation with whom this method of instruction was familiar.
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 began with the parable of the sower, who cast his seed on different soils, which, according to their natures, brought forth either plentifully, or sparingly, or not at all. By this similitude he represented the different kinds of hearers, with the different effects which the doctrines of religion have upon them, according to their different dispositions. In some, these doctrines are suppressed altogether; in others, they produce the fruits of righteousness, more or less, according to the goodness of their hearts, through divine grace. A parable of this kind was highly seasonable, now that the multitude shewed such an itching desire to hear Christ's sermons, while perhaps they neglected the end for which they ought to have heard them. This parable too was exquisitely proper for an introduction to all the rest, as our Lord answers in it a very obvious and very important question: "The same sower Christ, and the same preachers sent by him, always sow the same seed; why has it not always the same effect?" He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. See Bengelius.
Matthew 13:4. And when he sowed, &c. the fowls— And as he sowed, &c. the birds. It is observable, that our Lord points out the great hindrances of our bearing fruit, in the same order as they occur. The first danger is, that the birds will devour the seed; if it escape this, there is yet another danger, namely, lest it be scorched and wither away; it is not long after this that the thorns spring up and choke the good seed. A vast majority 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 ground: many of those who receive it in a better soil, yet suffer the thorns to grow up and choke it; so that few comparatively even of those endure to the end, and bear fruit to perfection: and yet in all these cases it is not the will of God which hinders, but their own voluntary perverseness. See Mr. Wesley's notes on the New Testament.
Matthew 13:5. Stony places— Rocky ground. The phrase, stony places, does not express the sense. There may be many loose stones, from which the place would properly be denominated stony, where the soil is both rich and deep. What is meant here is evidently continued rock, with a very thin cover of earth.
Matthew 13:6. And when the sun was up— This was the reason that, upon the sun's appearing, they were scorched, &c. Prussian editors.
Matthew 13:8. But other fell into good ground— But another part, falling on good ground, bare fruit; one grain yielding an hundred, another sixty, another thirty. Prussian editors. See Genesis 26:12. The fruitfulness of the seed which was sown on good ground, is not to be understood, says Macknight, of the field's producing a hundred times as much as was sown on it; but it is to be understood of a single grain producing a hundred grains, which, it might easily do where it met with a good soil, and was properly nourished; but there are many accidents by which the produce of a field, so rich as to be capable of nourishing a hundred grains by a single root, is reduced within ordinary bounds. The parable mentions some of them; part of the seed is trodden down by passengers, or destroyed by the birds, part is starved in bad soil among rocks, and part is choked by weeds.
Matthew 13:10-13. And the disciples came, &c.— See the note on Mark 4:10. The answer which our Lord here returns to his disciples is remarkable: "You, my disciples, says he, who are of a humble, docile, temper, and are content to use means, and to resort to me for the understanding of such things as I deliver, to you it shall be no disadvantage that they are clothed in parables; for, besides that I am ready to interpret every thing to you, my discourses are so ordered, as to become plain and intelligible to such unprejudiced minds: the truth will shine through the veil, and the shadow shall guide you to the body and substance. But as for those proud and self-conceited Pharisees, who are elated with their own prejudices, and will neither understand nor practise things plainly delivered, for the judicial hardening of them, I deliver myself in a manner which will not readily be apprehended by men of their temper. They shall choke themselves with the husks, while you feed upon the kernel. They have brought this wilful blindness upon themselves, that in seeing they see not; and this wilful deafness, that in hearing they hear not, neither understand." This is elegantly paraphrased in the version of 1727. They overlook what they see, and are inattentive to what they hear: the Hebraism, however, is peculiarly emphatical. The accountwhichJamblichusgivesoftheobscurityof Pythagoras is something similar to what our Saviour says here: "Pythagoras studied some obscurity in his dictates, that those only who were virtuously disposed, and so prepare for his notions, might be benefited by his discourses; but as for others, they (as Homer says ofTantalus) should be surrounded with such things as were in themselves desirable, but not be able to touch them." The word mystery, Mat 13:11 signifies in general whatever is hidden and unknown. The heathens were accustomed to give that name to their secret religious ceremonies; but our Lord uses it here to denote some particulars which were to happen relative to the gospel, the preaching of it, and the success it was to meet with in the world; which were at that time unknown, and consequently mysteries, till they were revealed. See Mintert on the word μυστηριον . We have an expression in Juvenal, parallel to the latter clause of the 12th verse:
Nil habuit Codrus;—et tamen illud Perdidit infelix totum nil.
Sat, iii. 208, 9.
'Tis true, poor Codrus nothing had to boast; And yet, poor Codrus all that nothing lost.
This sentence of our Lord, which has the appearance of a paradox, is often made use of by him. He that hath, is he that improveth those advantages which God hath given him, and continuallyreceives more, till he has attained a full measure of them:He that hath not, is he that does not improve the like advantages, but makes so ill a use of them, that they stand him in no more stead than if he had them not. Shall be taken away even that he hath, means the talents or advantages wherewith he has been intrusted. This sentence is explained by the parable of the talents, ch. Matthew 25:14, &c. See also Luke 8:18. In the passage before us we have the grand rule of God's dealings 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 on the great day; and therefore in pursuance of this general rule, I speak to them in parables, says our Saviour, Matthew 13:13. "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, understanding, they use none of them; they do not effectually see, or hear, or understand any thing."
Matthew 13:14-15. And in them is fulfilled, &c.— See the note on Isaiah 6:9. The prophet's meaning is, that the Jews should certainly hear the doctrines of the gospel, without understanding them, and see the miracles which confirmed those doctrines, without perceiving the finger of God in them; not because the evidences of the gospel, whether internal or external, were insufficient to establish it, but because the corruption of their hearts hindered them from discerning those evidences: For this people's heart is waxed gross, &c. In Isaiah the passage is worded somewhat differently, Make the heart of this people fat, &c. Now this form is peculiar to the prophetical writings; implying no more than an order to the prophet simply to foretel that the Jews would make their own hearts hard, sensual, proud, and stubborn; and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, &c. They would shut their eyes against the miracles, and their ears against the doctrines of the Gospel, as if they were afraid of being converted and healed; having the strongest aversion to hear or see what was contrary to their inclination. See Jeremiah 1:9-10. Ezekiel 43:3.Genesis 41:13; Genesis 41:13. This prophesy, therefore, and its citation, are exactly the same; only the prophesy represents the thing as to happen,—Make the heart of this people, &c. whereas the citation represents it as already come to pass,—This people's heart is, &c. "This people have made themselves so wicked and proud, that they will neither hear nor see any thing opposite to their lusts, so that they appear as if they were resolved not to be converted." This interpretation of the prophesy, and of its application made by St. Matthew, is confirmed by Isaiah himself, ch. Matthew 6:11. "Then said I, Lord, how long? How long are they to be in this miserable condition? And he answered, Till the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate; their blindness is to remain, till utter destruction falls upon them as a nation, overturning the constitution of their church and state." It is confirmed also by the subjects of the parables to which our Lord applied this prophesy: For, had he told the Jews plainly,what he told them in an obscure manner by the parable of the sower, namely, that a principal part of the Messiah's office was to instil the doctrines of true religion into the minds of men, and that the chief effect of his power on earth should be to set them free from the tyranny of their lusts, that they might become fruitful in goodness; had he plainly declared what he insinuated in the parable of the grain of mustard, which grew so great, as to shelter the fowls of heaven under its branches,—that the Gentiles were to be governed by the Messiah, not as slaves but freeborn subjects, and to enjoy all the privileges of his kingdom on an equal footing with Jews; had he taught them plainly, what he insinuated obscurely, by the parable of the sown seed, which sprung up silently; and by the parable of the leaven hid in a quantity of meal;—that the kingdom of the Messiah was neither to be erected nor supported by the violence of war, but by the secret force of truth, whose operation, though strong, is imperceptible;—I say, had our Lord taught his hearers these things in plain terms, they would have rejected them, been greatly offended, and probably have forsaken him altogether; so opposite were the doctrines mentioned to their favourite notions and expectations. In the meantime, if it be asked why he handled such subjects at all, since he delivered them in terms so obscure? The answer is, it was expedient for the confirmation of the Gospel, that he himself, in hisown lifetime, should give some hints of the nature of it, and of the reception it was to meet with, because the Jews, comparing the events with these parabolical predictions, might be disposed thereby to acquiesce more peaceably in the admission of the Gentiles into the church, without subjecting them to the Mosaical institutions; a thing which they were not brought to do but with the utmost difficulty. See Macknight,and more in the note on Mark 4:11. Dr. Doddridge renders these verses, And in them is the prophesy of Isaiah fulfilled, which saith, By hearing you shall hear, but you shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, but shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown stiff with fatness, and they hear with heavy ears, and draw up their eyes [as if they were more than half asleep], lest at any time they should see, &c.
Matthew 13:17. Verily I say unto you, That, &c.— This is what sets the disciples above all prophets, and renders them greatest in the kingdom of heaven. See ch. Mat 11:11 and comp. Psalms 119:174. Luke, ii 25, 29, 30 Matthew 10:23-24.John 8:56; John 8:56. 1 Peter 1:1-10
Matthew 13:19. When any one heareth, &c.— From this interpretation of the parable by our Saviour, we learn, that the seed signifies the doctrines of true religion; and the various kinds of ground, the various kinds of hearers: the comparison between God and the sower is frequent among the Jewish writers, and seed is among almost all nations used for doctrine or instruction. The ground by the highway side, which is apt to be beaten by men's treading upon it, is an image of those who have their hearts so hardened with impiety, that though they hear the Gospel preached, it makes no impression at all upon them; because they either hear it inattentively, or, if they attend, quickly forget it. This insensibility and inattention are strongly represented by the beaten ground along the highway, into which the seed never entering, it is bruised by the feet of men, or picked up by birds. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, or gospel, and understandeth, or considereth it not, (for the original word συνιεναι signifies both,) then cometh the wicked one, &c. The devil is said to come and catch the word from this sort of hearers, not because he has power to rob men of their knowledge, or religious impressions, by any immediate act; but because they expose themselves, through carelessness, to the whole force of the temptations which he lays in their way, and particularly to those which arise whether from the commerce of men, (a circumstance observed by St. Luke, who tells us that the seedwas trodden down,) or from their own head-strong lusts, which, like so many hungry fowls, fly to and quickly eat up the word out of their mind. The perturbation occasioned by the passions of this kind of hearers, and by the temptations to which they are exposed, renders them altogether inattentive in hearing; or if they attend, it hardens them against the impression of the word, and effaces the remembrance of it in an instant; insomuch, that the pernicious influence of evil passions and bad company cannot truly be represented by any lower figure, than that the word is taken away by the devil, whose agents such persons and lusts most certainly are. See Macknight. Dr. Campbell reads the last clause, This explaineth what fell by the way-side.
Matthew 13:20-21. But he that received—into stony places— The stony, or rocky ground, represents those hearers, who so far receive the word into their hearts, that it springs up in good resolutions, which perhaps are accompanied with a partial reformation of some sins, and a temporary practice of some virtues. Nevertheless, they are not thoroughly affected with the word; it does not sink deep enough to remain in their minds; and therefore, when persecution arises for the sake of the Gospel, and such hearers areexposed to fines, imprisonments, corporal punishments, banishment, and death, or even to any great temptation of an ordinary kind, which requires firmness to repel it, those good resolutions, which the warmth of the passions had raised so quickly in hearing, do as quickly wither, because they are not rooted in just apprehensions of the nature of the Gospel, and in genuine Christian experience; just like vegetables, which, not having depth of soil sufficient to nourish them, are soon burnt up by the scorching heat of the mid-day sun.
Matthew 13:22. He also that received seed among the thorns— The ground full of thorns which sprang up with the seed and choked it, represents all those who receive the word into hearts full of worldly cares; which sooner or later destroy whatever convictions or good resolutions are raised by the word. Worldly cares are compared to thorns, not only because of their pernicious efficacy in choking the word, but because it is with great pains and difficulty that they are eradicated. In the parable, the hearers of this denomination are distinguished from those who receive the seed on stony ground, not so much by the effect of the word upon their minds, as by the different nature of each; for in both the seed sprang up, but brought forth no fruit. The stony-ground hearers will not retain the impressions made by the word; they have not root in themselves; no strength of mind; no firmness of resolution, to resist temptations from without. Whereas the thorny-ground hearers have the soil, but then it is filled with the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the love of pleasure, which sooner or later stifle the impressions of the word; and by this means, in the issue, they are as unfruitful as the former. But both are distinguished from the way-side hearers by this, that they receivethe word, and yield to its influences in some degree; whereas the others do not receive the word at all, hearing without attention; or, if they do attend, forgetting it immediately. The way-side hearers hold the first place in the parable, because they are by far more numerous than the rest; and the good-ground hearers the last, because they are the fewest in number. The phrase απατη του πλουτου, the deceitfulness of riches, is very elegant, and admirably expresses the various artifices by which people, in the pursuit of riches, excuse themselves from day to day, in putting off the ardent pursuit of genuine religion,—and the astonishing disappointment which often mingles itself with their labours, and even with their success. Comp. Proverbs 11:28. Luke 18:24. 1 Timothy 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:17. 2 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 4:10.
Matthew 13:23. But he that received seed into the good ground— St. Luke has expressed this rather more fully, Luke 8:15. But that on the good ground are they, who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it,—in opposition to the way-side, which never received the seed at all, but bearing it on its surface, offered it to the devouring birds;—and bring forth fruit with patience; in opposition both to the stony and thorny grounds, which nourished the seed that was cast into them only for a while; the former till the sun arose, the latter till the thorns sprang up. The goodness of heart for which this kind of hearers are applauded, consists in their simplicity and sincerity: the seed or word having been duly cultivated by them, they understand what they hear. The honesty of their heart consists in their disposition through grace to believe the truth, though contrary to their prejudices; and to practise it, though opposite to their inclinations: All who hear the word with these qualifications, and join thereto, through the spirit of God, firmness of resolution, and the government of their passions, never fail to bring forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty; fruits of righteousness, in proportion to the different degrees of strength in which they possess the graces necessary to constitute them profitable hearers of the word. See Macknight, and Bishop Beveridge's 9th sermon, vol. Mat 10:8 vo.
Matthew 13:24-25. The kingdom of heaven is likened, &c.— The kingdom of heaven may be compared to, &c. or literally, is like to: It is a phrase often used by our Lord, to signify that the following parable, in its principal circumstances, bears a resemblance to what comes to pass in the kingdom of heaven; that is to say, the evangelical dispensation. See ch. Mat 11:16 and Luke 7:32. Respecting the tares, see the note on Matthew 13:30. The great and judicious Bishop Sherlock has admirably illustrated this parable. Take away the dress of parable, says he, and what our Saviour here delivers amounts to this: "There will always be a mixture in the world of good and bad men, which no care or diligence can prevent; and though men may and will judge that the wicked ought immediately to be cut off by the hand of God, yet God judges otherwise, and delays his vengeance for wise and just reasons, sparing the wicked at present for the sake of the righteous; reserving all to the great day in which the divine justice shall be fully displayed, and every man shall receive according to his own works." The view of this parable has, in some parts of it, I think, been misapplied. It is intended to represent the condition of mankind arising from the nature of grace and moral agency,—some being good, some bad; a mixture, which from the very nature of mankind is always to beexpected;—and to justify God in delaying the punishment of those sins which appear to be ripe for vengeance. This being the view of the parable, it is going out of the way to consider the particular causes to which the sins of men may be ascribed; for the question is, not from what origin the sins of men arise, but why, from whatever cause they spring, they are not punished? In the parable therefore our Lord assigns only a general reason of the wickedness of the world,—an enemy hath done this. But there are who think they see another reason assigned in the parable; namely, the carelessness of the public governors and rulers, intimated in those words, But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat; and this text always finds a place in such complaints. And there is indeed no doubt but that the negligence of governors and magistrates, civil and ecclesiastical, may be often one cause of the ignorance and wickedness of the people: but that it is assigned as a cause in the parable cannot be proved; for these words while men slept, instead of charging the servants with negligence, plainly shew that no care or diligence of theirs could prevent the enemy. While they were awake, their care was awake also, and the enemy had no success; but sleep they must, nature requires it, and then it was that the enemy did the mischief. Had it been said, while men played, or were careless or riotous, that would have been a charge upon them; but to say while men slept, is so far from proving that their negligence caused it, that it plainly proved their diligence could not prevent it. For what will you say? Should husbandmen never sleep?—It is a condition upon which they cannot live, and therefore their sleeping cannot be charged as their crime. This circumstance therefore in the parable is to shew, not the fault of the husbandmen, but the zeal and industry of the enemy to do mischief. Watch him as narrowly as you will, yet still he will break through all your care and diligence. If you do but step aside, compelled by the calls of nature to eat, to drink, or to sleep, he is ready to take the opportunity to sow his tares. Farther, the character of the husbandmen throughout the parable agrees to this exposition: when they saw the tares spring up, theybetrayed no consciousness of guilt or negligence; they did not come with excuses to their master, but with a question, which plainly speaks how little they mistrusted themselves: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? Would any servant, who had suffered the field to grow wild by his own laziness, have expostulated the case in such a manner? The master, far from charging any of his family with the fault, lays it at another door, an enemy hath done this. Upon which the servants, not sparing of their pains, were desirous to go to work immediately, and to root out all the tares at once. What is there in all this that suits with the character of a lazy, idle, negligent, servant? What is there which does not speak a care and concern for their master's affairs? As soon as they discover the tares, they go directly to their master, and inform him, and offer their service to root them out. In this particular he corrects their judgment, though he does not condemn their diligence. And in truth one main view of the parable is, to correct the zeal of those who cannot see the iniquity of the world without great indignation; and not being able to stop or to correct it themselves, are apt to call upon God to vindicate his own cause, by taking the matter to himself, and punishingthe evil-doers. The men who have this zeal and warmth against iniquity, are not commonly the idle negligent rulers; nor can we suppose that our Saviour would paint the same men in such different colours in the compass of a short parable; representing them idle and careless at the 25th verse, active and zealous at the 28th. Besides, as was observed before, to charge the wickedness of the world upon the negligence of this or that part of men answers no purpose of the parable; which is, to justify the wisdom of Providence, in permitting the sins of men to go unpunished for the present. But the justification does not arise from considering the causes of iniquity, butfrom considering the effect which immediate punishment would have. In the other way, now explained to you, this circumstance, that while men slept, the tares were sown, promotes the main end of the parable, and completes the justification of the Providence of God; for this shews, that offences must needs come: they are not to be prevented, without disturbing the very course of nature; without God's interposing miraculously to suspend the workings of second causes, since all care exercised in a human way is too little; for evenwhen men sleep,—and sleep they must,—the enemy will sow his tares. Since therefore the parable shews, that iniquity can neither be prevented, nor immediately punished, consistently with the wisdom and goodness of God; it shuts out every complaint, and forces us to acknowledge that God is just in all his ways, and righteous in all his dealings with mankind. See his Discourses, vol. 3: disc. 8 part 1.
Matthew 13:27. So the servants of the householder— The original word 'Οικοδεσποτης, seems to signify in this connection, "the proprietor of the estate:" he is supposed to be the master of the field, and of some lodge or farm-house, in which these servants dwelt.
Matthew 13:29. But he said, Nay, &c.— These words account for the justice of God in suspending his judgments. To see the full force of the reason in this respect, it is necessary we should understand what sort of sinners are spoken of, for this reason is not always applicable to all cases; many sinners are spared upon other accounts than this which is here given: the sinners intended in this passage are spared merely on account of the righteous, that they may not be involved in the punishment due to the sins of others; but some sinners are spared out of a mercy which regards themselves, in hopes of their amendment. The sinners represented by the tares are such, of whose repentance and amendment there is no hope and our Saviour has told us that these sinners shall certainly be punished at the last; which cannot certainly be said of any but incorrigible sinners: these sinners, therefore being considered as incorrigible, there was no room to justify the delay of punishment from any circumstances arising out of their own case. Even the mercy of God was excluded in this respect; for if the incorrigible sinner be the object of mercy, no sinner need fear punishment. Our Saviour, therefore, gives them up intirely, and justifies the wisdom and goodness of God in sparing them, from other motives. The interests of good and bad men are so united in this world; there is such a connection between them in many respects, that no signal calamity can befal the wicked, but therighteous must have his share in it. This was Abraham's plea when he interceded with the Lord for the men of Sodom. In public calamities it is evident that all must be sufferers without distinction: fire and sword, famine and pestilence, rage indifferently in the borders of the righteous and the sinner, and sweep away one as well as the other. Thus far then the reason of this verse most certainly extends, and shews us the mercy of God in forbearing to appear against sinners in such punishments as would bring upon the best of men the punishments due only to the worst. You see a great wicked man in a prosperous condition, and you think his happytranquillity a perpetual reproach to the providence of God: you would not have God rain fire and brimstone upon the city for the sake of this great offender, since many innocent persons would necessarily suffer in the ruin? No; but you would have God take him suddenly away by some secret and silent method; or you would have him punished in his fortune, and reduced to that misery which his sins deserve. This you think would be very just and reasonable, and highly becoming the wisdom of God. But do you not consider that there is no great man who is not related to others? are all the relations and dependents of this great sinner as wicked as himself? Is there not one good man the better for him? Are his children all abandoned? Or would you turn out a family of innocent children to seek their bread in the streets, rather than let the iniquity of the father go unpunished for a few years! Till you can answer these questions, you must not pretend to arraign the wisdom and goodness of God, in sparing thisoffender. Now these considerations plainly shew the equity and goodness of God in delaying the punishment of the wicked; in both the cases above-mentioned you see that mercy triumphs over justice, and the guilty is preserved for the sake of the innocent, which is such an act of goodness, as no man surely has reason to complain of. Nor will the justice of God suffer in this account, as will plainly appear from the following considerations: the parable is evidently intended as an answer to the common objection against Providence, drawn from the prosperity of sinners, or the impunity of offenders. Ask the man who makes this objection against God's government, why he thinks it unbecoming the wisdom of God to delay the punishment of sinners? He will readily answer, because it is contrary to his justice; and to support his reason,he will farther add, that it is an undoubted maxim of justice, that all sinners deserve punishment. And here I thinkhe must stop; for he cannot enter into particular cases, unless he knew more of man than he does, or can know. In answer to this, our Saviour owns the truth of the general maxim, as far as it relates to the desert of sinners; and thereforeteaches us, that God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world: but then he shews, from superior reasons of justice, that the application of the principle in the present case is wrong; for though it be just to punish all sinners, yet to punish them immediately, would destroy the very reason which makes it just to punish them. It is just to punish them, that there may be a difference made between the good and the bad, according to their deserts, that their punishment may be a discouragement to vice, and an encouragement to holiness and virtue. Now our Lord shews in this parable, that the immediate punishment of the wicked would quite destroy those ends of justice; for the righteous and the wicked, like the wheat and the tares, growing together in one field, are so mixed and united in interests in this world, that, as things stand, the wicked cannot be rooted out, but the righteous must suffer with them: consequently, the immediate destruction of the wicked, since it must inevitably fall upon therighteous also, would make no proper distinction between the good and the bad; could be no encouragement to holiness and virtue, for the virtuous would suffer; could be no discouragement to vice, for vice would fare as well as virtue: And therefore it is not only reasonable to delay, in innumerable instances, the punishment of the wicked, but even necessary, to the obtaining of the ends of justice, since they cannot be obtained in their immediate destruction. See Bishop Sherlock's 8th Discourse, parts 1 and 2 vol. 3. See also the Reflections.
Matthew 13:30. Gather—the tares, and bind them in bundles— The word tares does not seem to express the meaning of the original ζιζανια : for tares, with us, are not noxious weeds, but a serviceable kind of pulse, of great use for cattle, and very easily distinguished in their growth from wheat; whereas the original expresses somewhat (and the scope of the parable demands it) which is of no service at all; fit only to be burned, and which cannot easily be distinguished from the good corn till both are grown up; and to these particulars answer either what are called the deaf ears in wheat, which cannot be discerned till the time of harvest; or rather a weed called darnel, the infelix lolium, which grows up with wheat, and unless gathered out of it before it be reaped, is very prejudicial to the corn. Dr. Johnson, indeed, in his Dictionary, says, that "tares (from teeren, Dutch, to consume) are a weed that grows among corn." The original word, as some very able Grecians tell us, is not found except in the Evangelists, and certain of the fathers; and they give it different derivations.
Matthew 13:31-32. Another parable put he forth— The former parables relate chiefly to unfruitful hearers; these that follow, to those who bear good fruit. In the present parable our Lord shews, that notwithstanding the gospel appeared at first contemptible, by reason of the ignominy arising from the crucifixion of its Author, the difficulty of its precepts, the weakness of the persons by whom it was preached, and the small number and mean condition of those who received it; yet having initself the strength of truth, it would grow so great as to fill the earth, affording spiritual sustenance to persons of all nations, who should be admitted to it, not in the quality of slaves, as the Jews imagined, but as free-born subjects of the Messiah's kingdom, enjoying therein equal privileges with the Jews. This sense of the parable is the more probable, as our Lord seems now to have had his eye on Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Dan 4:10-12 in which the nature and advantages of civil government are represented by a great tree with spreading branches, fair leaves, and much fruit. This parable was well calculated to encourage the disciples; who, judging of the Gospel by its beginning, might have been apt to fall into despair, when, instead of seeing it preached by the learned, countenanced by the great, and instantly received with applause by all, they found it generally opposed by men in high life, preached only by illiterate persons, and received by few besides the poor. These, certainly, were melancholy circumstances according to outward appearance, and what must have given great offence: yet in process of time they became strong confirmations of the Christian religion. The treasure of the Gospel was committed to earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might appear to be from God. The phrase, the least of all seeds, is a figure frequently used in common discourse, and signifies one of the least; or the least of all those seeds with which the people of Judaea were then acquainted; so small, that it was proverbially used by the Jews; to denote a very little thing. "The globe of the earth, say the rabbies, is but a grain of mustard-seed, when compared with the expanse of the heavens." See ch. Matthew 17:20. The term tree is applied bybotanists to plants of the larger kind, which grow to the magnitude of shrubs; and for that reason are termed plantae arborescentes. The Talmud mentions a mustard-tree, or at least what the Orientals comprehended under the species of the sinapi, so large that a man might with ease sit in it; and another, one of whose branches covered a tent. It is certain, that we should be much mistaken, if we judged of vegetables or animals in the Eastern or Southern countries, merely by what those of the same species are with us. The word κατασκηνουν, rendered lodge, signifies, "They find shelter, and pass their time there." See Tremellius and Lightfoot's Hor. Heb. on the place.
Matthew 13:33. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven— The meaning of this parable is commonly thought to be the same as that of the preceding; but there seems to be this difference between them; the parable of the grain of mustard seed represents the smallness of the Gospel in its beginnings, together with its subsequent greatness; whereas the parable of the leaven, which, being hid in a quantity of meal, fermented the whole, expresses in a very lively manner both the nature and strength of the operation of truth upon the mind; for though the doctrines of the Gospel, when first proposed, seemed to be lost in that enormous mass of passions and worldly thoughts with which men's minds were filled; yet did they then, through the Divine Spirit, most eminentlyexert their influence, converting men's thoughts and desires intoa conformity to truth. The precise difference, therefore, between this and the foregoing parable is, that the former represents the extensive propagation of the Gospel from the smallest beginning; but this, the nature of the influence of its doctrines upon the minds of particular persons. Our Saviour mentions here three measures of meal in particular, because this seems to be the quantity they usually kneaded at once. See Genesis 18:6. Macknight, Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 13:34-35. And without a parable spake he not, &c.— That is, "not at that time," or "to the people who then heard him." See the note on Matthew 13:1. Beausobre and Lenfant observe, that the quotation from the Psalms is not a prophecy of the manner in which Christ was to teach, but only an application, made by the Evangelist, of the words of the Psalmist to the mysterious mannerin which our Saviour taught. And Dr. Doddridge and several others are of the same opinion, supposing this passage quoted by way of allusion. See on ch. Matthew 1:22. But Dr. Whitby's interpretation seems to me preferable, who observes that the sense may be this:—our Saviour spake in parables, that what David, filled with the prophetic spirit, said of himself, might be fulfilled also in that Son of David, of whom he was a type; for he, being our great law-giver, might more truly say, Hear my law, O my people, Psalms 78:1. See the note on Psalms 49:4. Olearius's 49th Observation, and Wetstein.
Matthew 13:38. The children of the kingdom— This is a Hebraism, signifying the heirs of the kingdom, ch. Mat 8:12 where the unbelieving Jews are named the children of the kingdom, in opposition to the Gentiles, because they were born within the Mosaic covenant. Here the children of the kingdom are the true believers, as the children of the wicked one are the unregenerate and disobedient. See John 8:41; John 8:44.
Matthew 13:39. The end of the world— Of the age, literally, a Hebraism, frequently used in the New Testament. Comp. the next verse, and Hebrews 1:2. What follows is an allusion to Joel 3:13. See also Revelation 14:15.
Matthew 13:41. The Son of man shall send forth, &c.— The reader must observe how high an idea our Saviour here gives his disciples of himself, when he speaks of the angels as his attendants who were at the last day to wait on him, and at his order to assemble the whole world before him: they shall gather out of his kingdom all that offend, παντα τα σκανδαλα, all things which are an offence to others, by laying stumbling-blocks in their way Και τους, &c. "Even all the transgressors of the law; for so the word και should be rendered in this and many other places of the New Testament."
Matthew 13:42. A furnace— The furnace.
Matthew 13:43. Then shall the righteous shine forth, &c.— In this beautiful expression, our blessed Saviour seems to allude to Daniel 12:3. They that be wise shall shine, &c. 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 righteous men with God their Father. The exclamation at the end of the verse 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 allwho have the faculty of reason ought therefore to regard them with becoming attention. See Macknight and Calmet.
Matthew 13:44-46. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure— These three following parables are proposed not so much to the multitude, as to the apostles particularly. The parable of the treasure which a man found hidden in a field, was designed to teach us, that some meet with the Gospel as it were by accident, and without seeking after it, agreeably to what the prophet Isaiah says, Isa 65:1 that God is found of them who seek him not. On the other hand, the parable of the merchant, who inquired after goodly or beautiful pearls, and found one of great value, informs us, that men's receiving the Gospel is often, through the grace of God, the effect of a diligent search after truth. The Gospel is fitly compared to a treasure, as it enriches all who profess it; and to a pearl, because of its beauty and preciousness: both the parables represent the effect of divine truth upon those who find it through grace, whether by accident or upon inquiry. Being found and known, it appears exceedingly valuable, and raises in men's breasts such a vehemency of desire, that they willingly part with all that they have for the sake of obeying its precepts; and when they part withall on account of it, think themselves incomparably richer than before. The sacred writers elsewhere compare and prefer wisdom to jewels. See Job 28:15-19. Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11.
Matthew 13:47-50. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net— This parable intimates, that by the preaching of the Gospel a visible church should be gathered on earth, consistingboth of good and bad men, mingled in such a manner, that it would be difficult to make a proper distinction between them; but that at the end of the world the bad shall be separated from the good, and cast into hell; which the parable represents under the image of casting them into the furnace of fire, because that was the most terrible punishment known in the Eastern countries. See Daniel 3:6. 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. Ch. Matthew 4:19. It differs from the parable of the tares in its extent, representing the final state and judgment of wicked men in general; whereas that of the tares describes more particularly the miserable end of hypocrites and apostates. The word σαπρα, rendered bad, Mat 13:48 generally signifies corrupt or putrid, and seems an allusion to the drawing up of some dead fish in the net with the living. It has been observed, that this in the strongest terms represents the hopeless state of sinners at last. See Herbery's Discourse of future Punishment.
Matthew 13:51-52. Have ye understood, &c.— When Jesus had finished his parables, he asked his disciples if they understood them; and upon their answering in the affirmative, he told them, that every teacher of the Jewish religion, who was converted to Christianity, and made a preacher of the Gospel, might, by reason of the variety of his knowledge and his ability, be compared to a prudent master of a family, who nourishes them with the fruits both of the present and of the preceding years, as their need requires. Our Saviour has given the pattern and example of such a teacher in his discoursecontained in this chapter; and by the similitude of the householder, he shews his disciples the use that they were to make of the knowledge they had acquired, whether from the old revelation transmitted to them by the prophets, or from the new revelation, of which Jesus was, in a more peculiar sense, the author and dispenser. See Macknight and Wetstein. Dr. Clarke in his Sermons, vol. 10: serm. 4 gives the following exposition of the 52nd verse: "Those thoroughly qualified to be successful preachers of the Gospel should be able on all occasions in bring forth out of their memory, as out of a copious storehouse, instructions suited to persons of all capacities." Concerning the word treasures, see the note on ch. Matthew 2:11.
Matthew 13:54. Into his own country— Nazareth is so called, because it was the town in which Jesus was brought up, and to distinguish it from Capernaum, where he commonly resided. This wisdom signifies this learning. They were amazed to find in our Lord such extraordinary learning, without having ever been taught by their doctors. These mighty works, in the Greek is δυναμεις, virtues. The word denotes both miracles, and the power of performing them.
Matthew 13:55. Is not this the carpenter's son?— In St. Mark, Mar 6:3 it is, Is not this the carpenter? 'Ο τεκτων ; Accordingly Justin Martyr tells us, and the ancient Christians were all of the same opinion, that Jesus was employed in this occupation. Their canons required that all parents should teach their children some trade; and probablythe poverty of the family engaged Christ, while he was at home with Joseph, to work at his. What an additional proof this, of the humiliation of the blessed Redeemer for our sakes! By comparing ch. Matthew 27:56., Mark 15:40., John 19:25., with this passage, it appears, that the four persons mentioned here were the sons of Mary, sister to the virgin Mary, and the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, which is the same name. See ch. Matthew 10:3 Matthew 12:46. By James is meant James the Lesser, whom St. Paul calls our Lord's brother, Galatians 1:19. Joses or Joseph (for it is the same name) is the only son of Mary, the wife of Alpheus, who never was an Apostle. Simon is he who is called the Canaanite or Zealot, to distinguish him from Simon Peter. And Judas or Jude is the author of the Epistle which goes under that name, wherein he styles himself the brother of James.
Matthew 13:56. Whence then, &c.— This, like many other things which 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 have been the effect of some extraordinary and divine influence on his mind.
Matthew 13:57. And they were offended in him— The Nazarenes, not being able to reconcile the miracles, and wisdom of our Lord with the meanness of his birth, were full of doubts and uncertainties; they could not tell what to say or think of him, suspecting perhaps that he was a sorcerer. The word unbelief, used in the next verse, serves to explain all this. And we learn from Luk 4:22 that, notwithstanding their unbelief, they could not forbear praising and admiring him. Dr. Doddridge renders the next clause, "A prophet is no where less esteemed than in his own country, and among his relations, even in his own family;" which is plainly the sense of the words, though ours is a literal translation: for a prophet may be, and oftenis, affronted at a distance from home, as our Saviour himself found by frequent experience. (See John 4:44.Luke 4:24; Luke 4:24.) The expression is proverbial, signifying that those who possess extraordinary endowments are no where in less request than among their relations and acquaintance. The reason is, superior work never fails to be envied; and envy, ever industrious in its search, commonly finds some way or other to turn the knowledge it has of persons to their disadvantage.
Matthew 13:58. And he did not, &c.— We are not to understand these words as if the power of Christ was here disarmed: but only that they brought but few sick people to him for a cure, Mark 6:5. He did not judge it convenient to obtrude his miracles upon them, and so could not honourably and properly perform them. On the same principle it is that faith, in some cases, though not in all, is made the condition of receiving a cure. Compare ch. Matthew 9:29. Mar 9:23 and Acts 14:9. Christ saw proper to make it so here, as he well might, considering what the Nazarenes must undoubtedly have heard of him from other places, and what they had themselves confessed but just before, of mighty works being wrought by his hands; which shews 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. In this view therefore it is hard to say, how he could, consistently with his character and perfections, have lavished away his favours on so unworthy a people. Dr. Clarke explains this, "He could not do any mighty works there, consistently with his rule and method of acting, or with his present purposes and designs." See vol. 9: serm. 3.; the note on Mark 6:6.; Doddridge; and Olearius. The reason, says one, why many mighty works are not wrought now is, not that the faith is everywhere planted, but that unbelief every where prevails.
Inferences.—We have in this chapter one more prophetic testimony to the divine character and mission of our great Redeemer,—his speaking in parables; and certainly we should think ourselves peculiarly favoured, that while the great truths of the Gospel were veiled in obscurity, and hid from the sight of those who had rendered themselves unworthy of clearer information, we, with the disciples of our Lord, are permitted to know the mysteries of the kingdom, and are indulged with the clearest and fullest intelligence of those great and interesting truths, which many prophets and righteous men have anxiously wished to know, but have not known them.
We should for ever fix it in our minds, that more abundant light and information require a proportionably higher degree of holiness and virtue; to whom much is given, of them much will be required. And as from the parable of the sower we are clearly informed, that increase and improvement depend, under the influence of God's grace, upon ourselves; that the seed and the sower being always the same, the success of that seed, and the fruitfulness of it, arise from the soil; we should be especially careful, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, duly to prepare our hearts, to bring that good and honest, that humble and teachable, that attentive and considerate disposition to the hearing of the Gospel, which will always be abundantly recompensed with a right knowledge, a genuine experience, and the zealous practice of that Gospel.
When we review mankind, and consider the various pursuits in which they are engaged, the idlenesses and the occupations, the business and the pleasures which so totally engross the minds of the generality, we cannot wonder at the little influence which the preaching of the word of Christ has upon them. Cares are thorns to the poor, wealth to the rich, the desire of other things to all. Riches are called deceitful, and with great propriety: for they smile and betray, kiss and smite into perdition; they put out the eyes, harden the heart, steal away the divine life, fill the soul with pride, anger, and love of the world, and make men enemies to the whole cross of Christ; and all the while are eagerly desired, and vehemently pursued even by those who believe there is a God; nay, who profess to believe the Gospel of Christ.
How great is the forbearance and long-suffering of our God! However pernicious the tares, however abandoned the wicked; however they defy his power, defile his gifts, and dishonour his works, he will not suffer them instantly to be rooted up; he will not in terrible vengeance immediately exert the severity of his judgments upon them. And shall our forbearance and lenity be less than God's! When we behold vice triumphant, nay when we suffer beneath its oppressions, or in any respect feel its fatal consequences, let us preserve our souls in patience, and remember that a day is coming, when the great separation will be made; when all things that offend shall be cast out of the kingdom of heaven; and when the faithful righteous shall shine forth, bright and pure as the sun, in that kingdom of the Father. Glorious and triumphant consolation! What more do we want to sustain us, amidst all the evils and difficulties of this state of probation? What more can we want to encourage us to maintain the faith of Christ, and to make ourselves, through grace, of the number of those righteous?
The blessed Jesus renewed his visit to Nazareth, Mat 13:54 though the people of that place had attempted to murder him on his first preaching among them: So should we never be weary of well-doing, nor refuse to renew our attempts on the most obstinate sinners, where the interests of their immortal souls are concerned. Blind and deaf though they be, while hardened in guilt, to the dreadful danger of their unhappy state; yet we, as having our eyes open by Almighty grace to that danger, should be the more ready to compassionate and relieve them.
But though these Nazarenes were astonished at his wisdom, and could not but allow the mighty works which he had wrought; yet they went on, perverse and ungrateful, to reject him, and in so doing were condemned out of their own mouth. Well would it be if these persons afforded us the only instance of such self-condemnation. Well would it be, if, among those who profess the faith of Christ, who acknowledge his wisdom and mighty works, none were found, who in heart and life rejected him, disavowing by their actions what their lips continually expressed. Formality of profession is ever to be most dreaded by those, who, brought up in a speculative faith, receive their creed by tradition, and without due examination; and therefore we cannot be too carefully guarded against it.
How much did these Nazarenes lose by their obstinate prejudices against Jesus! How many diseased bodies might have been cured, how many lost souls might have been recovered and saved, had they given him a better reception! Their unbelief as it were disarmed Christ himself of his power to do good, and rendered him a savour of death rather than of life to their souls: and still the same destructive principles will work the same destructive consequences: faith seems to have put the Almighty power of God into the hands of men, while unbelief seems even to tie up the hands of Omnipotence. It is a sin pregnant with every other; and with respect to the dispensation of the Gospel, one which discovers no less blindness than disingenuousness in the mind: for what could the Lord have done more for his vineyard than he hath done in it? What more abundant and convincing testimony could he have given in proof of his divine mission, than he has graciously afforded to mankind?—Prophesies clear and continued, miracles mighty and indisputable, wisdom pure and perfect. The Nazarenes allowed his wisdom; and we shall do well to observe, that the very argument which they made use of to support their rejection of this most Divine Prophet, is in itself a strong proof of his divine mission. Whence hath this carpenter's son this wisdom? Born and educated amongst us, without any of the means of improvement in human learning, putting his hand to the nail, and his right hand to the workman's hammer? Whence this wisdom, these mighty works, to a man so mean, so low, so utterly uninstructed, unlettered, unaided? O ye Nazarenes, can ye want an answer? This wisdom is from God! O wisdom of the Son of God! O power of the Father! who canst at the same time discover thyself to the eyes of simple and genuine believers, and conceal thyself from such as are carnal: my faith owns, adores, invokes thee, as the uncreated and incarnate Wisdom, as the light of angels and men, hid under the obscurity of our flesh, veiled in the voluntary meanness of thy humiliation, and debased in the proud conceits of self-sufficient philosophers of this world.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, With indefatigable diligence did the great Prophet labour to inculcate the doctrines of his Gospel. The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea-side, his auditory being too great for a house to contain them; and there, ascending a ship for his pulpit, while the attentive multitude crowded the shore, he spake many things unto them in parables, more, probably, than are here recorded; and he chose this method for reasons given. Note; (1.) In preaching the Gospel, we are called to be instant in season and out of season: no time nor place is unsuitable to speak a word for Christ and for immortal souls. (2.) Where Christ is preached, there should we with delight attend: his presence and blessing on the sea-shore are better than all the magnificence of Solomon's temple without him.
1. The parable with which Christ opens his discourse is that of a sower, sowing his seed, with the various soils on which it fell, and the consequences thereof. By familiar and well-known objects, Christ would thus convey more pleasingly his divine instructions, and teach them to spiritualize their daily labours, and to draw from them profitable meditation. The explication of the parable Christ is pleased himself to give, and we cannot err when following an infallible interpreter. The seed is the word of the kingdom, the Gospel; the sower is the Lord Jesus, with all his divinely appointed ministers; and he also by his Spirit quickens the seed sown, that it may bring forth fruit in the hearts of those who will with simplicity accept his grace. The field is the world in general; and the several sorts of ground here mentioned, on which the seed falls, represent the different tempers of those to whom the Gospel is preached, and the effects thereby produced upon them.
[1.] Some are like the way-side, where the seed, falling on the hard ground, not broken up, is exposed to the birds, and devoured. This represents the case of those who are careless, negligent, and inattentive hearers, on whom the word of God makes no impression: they understand it not, being wilfully under the darkness of their fallen mind, and their hearts hardened. The wicked one, the devil, ever watchful to prevent all good men from entering, no sooner observes such a one in the way of the Gospel, than he seeks to divert him from it, and catches away the word from his heart as it falls, distracting his attention by some objects around him, or suggesting some idle, vain, worldly, or trifling thoughts, so that the word of God is immediately effaced from the memory, and becomes utterly unprofitable.
[2.] Others are like the stony ground, on which whatever is sown springs up quickly, the earth being shallow; but, unable to bear the scorching sun, for want of root, it withers away. Such are they who attend the ministry of the word, and, greatly struck at first with what they hear, give an immediate assent to its truth; but the root of the matter is not in them; they are unfaithful; they are not brought to a deep and humble sense of the sinfulness of their nature; they do not see the utter impotence of their hearts to all good; they are not humbled to an universal renunciation of themselves; nor led to Christ alone for pardon, righteousness, grace, and glory: but while some lively impression or sudden flash of joy succeeds their hearing, they are ready to conclude that the work is done; their hearts continue unhumbled and unholy; they are not influenced by the divine principle of faith which worketh by love; they have never truly counted the cost, and therefore, when they are called to painful self-denial for Christ's sake, to endure reproach, the loss of friends or fortune, or the severer sufferings which invenomed persecutions may inflict, then they shrink from the cross, dishonour their profession, comply with the world, are offended, and walk no more with Jesus. May we never be numbered among such!
[3.] Another sort of hearers are compared to the seed sown among thorns. These go farther than the former: they are attendants on the word and ordinances, and in appearance Christians altogether; but insensibly the cares of the world, a too great anxiety about a provision for themselves or families, an inordinate love of money, and too eager a pursuit after it, these, under many a specious cloak of prudent care and becoming industry, seduce the affections to gold from God, and insensibly, like the thorns, eat out the life and spirit of that godliness which they once possessed; the heart grows cold, eternal things lose their importance, the vanities of time appear more significant; and though the profession of religion and the form of duties may still be carried on, it is mere husk; no substantial fruit of grace remains: the word is choked, and the soul drowned in perdition and destruction. How many thus have fallen! May we be warned of the imminent danger, and fear for ourselves, lest this evil world steal away our hearts from God!
[4.] Though others were unfruitful, one sort of hearers are mentioned, who, like the good ground, repaid the husbandman's toils. Their hearts sincerely yielded to be saved by grace: they received the seed of the Gospel, and, watered by the dews of heavenly influence, it grew, and brought forth fruit abundantly. They are described not merely as hearing the word, but understanding it, the eyes of their mind being enlightened; and they receive the truth not only in the light but in the love of it: in their heart the seed takes root, and brings forth the genuine fruits of righteousness and true holiness: and this variously; for though the quality of the fruit be the same in all, wrought by that one and the self-same spirit, yet in some these fruits are more eminent and abundant than in others. May Jesus give us then the hearing ear and understanding heart, that our profiting may appear; and may we seek to abide and abound in all the fruits of grace, which by Jesus Christ are to the praise and glory of God!
2. Christ resolves the question addressed to him by his disciples, why he spoke to the people by parables? In general, such was the good pleasure of his will. With regard to those who were his disciples, he intended to stir up their inquiries after the explanation of what they heard; they had left all, and followed him; and to them it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom: but to those who refused to listen to the first inspirations of grace, and trod under foot or negligently cast away those divine seeds out of which faith and regeneration might have sprung up in time, it was not given. Where the divine light which he bestows is faithfully improved, there he will continue to work, increasing his gifts of wisdom and grace: but where there is no desire to profit by his word, but a determined obstinacy to reject it, there he will take away the external gifts, the means of grace, or ministry of the Gospel, which such persons before enjoyed, or at least leave them to the blindness they have chosen. And this he assigns as the reason why he spake to them in parables, without expounding them to the multitude, as he did to his own disciples. He designed to leave those, who wilfully had rejected the light of his miracles and doctrines, to the hardness and impenitence of their own hearts. They did not choose to see or understand, and therefore he decrees in just judgment that they shall not. And herein the prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled. The Jews were now given up to that judicial blindness which he had foretold. In the midst of the glorious light of the Gospel, and in the face of the astonishing miracles wherewith Jesus as the Messiah had confirmed his mission, they obstinately stopped their ears, and closed their eyes, as if they were afraid lest the force of conviction and the strong evidence of truth should over-power them, and necessitate them to submit to the Saviour's doctrine, and yield up their hearts and ways to his government: which they being resolved not to do, his spirit will no longer strive with them, and they are left to the ignorance and impenitence of their hearts. But towards those simple souls that received the truth in the love of it, God had the most gracious designs: he had given them the seeing eye, and the hearing ear, and blessed them with the understanding of those mysteries of his grace which were hidden from the eyes of the others: yea, they enjoyed transcendant favours beyond all the prophets and righteous men who had gone before them; for, earnestly as the pious in ancient days longed for the appearing of the Messiah, and to behold him incarnate, they saw his day but at a distance, and chiefly beheld the great things of his kingdom wrapped up in types and figures; while his present disciples beheld him face to face, saw his miracles, and from his own mouth more distinctly were informed of those truths which the others saw only through a glass darkly. Note; (1.) Many enjoy the means of grace whose hearts only grow more hard and insensible under them. They hate the light, and therefore are justly abandoned to the darkness which they have chosen. (2.) The greatest of all blessings is the knowledge of Jesus; for to know him is everlasting life. (3.) If we be distinguished by peculiar circumstances of the divine regard, the stronger obligation is laid upon us to be thankful, and to walk in the light, as children of the light.
2nd, Our Lord farther continues his discourse to the people in parables, choosing in this manner to wrap up the doctrines that he inculcated, according to the prophesy (Psalms 78:2.); and while he thus opened a door for inquiry to his disciples, to whom he afterwards explained the meaning of the figures that he used, and informed them of the secrets of wisdom couched under these parables, he left the multitude in general, who shewed no solicitude to be informed of their meaning, to their wilful ignorance. Seven parables are delivered after that of the sower, one of which is afterwards particularly explained by our Lord in private to his disciples, who desired to be informed of its design. We have,
1. The parable of the tares, which is the representation of the visible church in particular, as the former related to the world in general.
[1.] The sower of the good seed is the Son of man, who, by himself, and his ministers whom he appoints, sows the seed of divine life in the hearts of believers, and causes it to take root and bring forth fruit: all that is good in man intirely originates with him.
[2.] The field is the world, through which the Gospel is spread; and particularly the visible church where the word is preached, and Christ's servants, under him the great Husbandman, continually labour to break up the fallow ground, and cast in the living seed.
[3.] The good seed are the children of the kingdom; those who by faith embrace the doctrines of the Gospel, and in all holy conversation and godliness adorn it.
[4.] The tares are the children of the wicked one; all hypocrites and careless professors, who, though they have a name to live in the visible church, are really dead in trespasses and sins; under the influence of the devil, resembling him in their spirit and tempers, and a trouble and vexation to the children of God among whom they associate.
[5.] The enemy that sowed them is the devil; that spirit of wickedness whose unwearied labours are employed to corrupt and destroy the souls of men, and who watches day and night to take advantage against the church of Christ: and while we are off our guard, or lulled by outward prosperity into a state of security, he insinuates his pernicious errors in doctrine and practice, seducing unstable souls: and for a while the mischief is not discovered, so artful are his wiles; like the villain who sowed tares, and slipped away unnoticed under the covert of the night. But though at first the secret wickedness which lurked under the cloak of profession is not perceived, in a little while the difference between the wheat and tares becomes very visible. The exercise of grace in the one appears evident in the spirituality of their tempers, the simplicity of their hearts, and the purity of their manners; whilst observation and experience discover the unfaithfulness of the tares; and a day of trial shews their real character. With grief and surprise the faithful ministers and servants of Jesus behold the errors and immoralities among the professors of godliness, and carry their sorrowful inquiries to their Lord; for they who have a zeal for him cannot but be affected with every thing in his church which reflects dishonour upon his holy religion. He informs them whence these tares sprung; he marked his enemy in all his ways. He does not reflect upon his servants, as if negligence were to be charged on them: nor will he grant their request of immediately eradicating these pernicious inmates of the visible church. There would be danger, if it was left to us, lest our undistinguishing eye might class among the hypocrites some who were sincere; or, too rigid or hasty in our judgments, we should count those tares, whom the Lord knew to be genuine believers; for his all-seeing eye alone can discern the true characters of men. They are therefore permitted to grow together; the day of separation will come, when the distinction between tares and wheat will be evident. And hence we should learn, (1.) That as long as Christ has a church, the devil will still be seeking to disturb the peace, or corrupt the purity of the professing members of it, notwithstanding the care of the most vigilant pastors, and the administration of the strictest discipline. (2.) We should be very cautious of pronouncing rash and hasty censures on the characters of others: God only knoweth the heart; and it is better that many criminals should escape, than one righteous person be condemned.
[6.] The harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels; they shall go forth, and make the aweful separation. All that offend and do iniquity, whose pernicious doctrines, or immoral conduct, have been a scandal to the religion they professed, shall be gathered out, and, like tares, bound in bundles for the burning. The distinction between the righteous and the wicked shall then be too evident to admit of a mistake, and the separation between them shall be perfect and everlasting. For,
[7.] They shall cast them, the tares, into a furnace of fire; the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, the place of torment appointed for all the ungodly, where they shall burn, and none shall quench them; their pangs intolerable and eternal, under the wrath of God, which is for ever wrath to come; where every expression of acutest anguish and black despair shall prove how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Lord, gather not my soul with these sinners!
[8.] The wheat shall be gathered into God's barn. The righteous being proved and found faithful, shall be collected in one glorious company, and shine forth as the sun arrayed in robes of spotless purity, and clothed with honour and immortality; admitted into their Father's kingdom, and sitting down on the throne of their Lord, to reign with him for ever and ever. The prospect of such a glorious state before us should deeply engage our attention; he therefore that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
2. The parable of the grain of mustard seed, which, from one of the smallest seeds, grows, in the Eastern countries, into the greatest of herbs; so that, like a spreading tree, the birds find shelter in its branches. And such is,
[1.] The work of God in a faithful soul. The beginnings are often small, and scarcely perceptible; but, watered with divine influences, the seed of eternal life springs up, and, amidst all the stormy blasts of temptation, corruption, persecution, affliction, to which it is exposed, increaseth with the increase of God.
[2.] Such also was the Messiah's kingdom at the first. Christ and his disciples seemed little, mean, and despicable; but their word took deep root; abundant converts were made; the Gospel spread on every side, and filled the face of the world with fruit: and, like the enlarging circle in the water, the church of Christ shall go on increasing, till the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the Lord; and all the fowls of the air, both Jews and Gentiles, be converted, and flock together into it. Hasten, O Lord, this happy day!
3. The parable of the leaven. As a little of this diffuses itself gradually through the whole mass of meal with which it is mingled; so does the Gospel word, when quickened by Divine grace, powerfully diffuse its energy through all the faculties of the believing soul, and over all the members of the body; sanctifying the whole, communicating throughout a sweet savour of Christ, and working a blessed and universal change into his image and likeness: And spreading far and wide among all nations, the word of truth shall continue its mighty operations, till all nations shall be brought to the obedience of the faith. Note; Where the leaven of truth is hid in the heart, there its influence will infallibly appear; there will be a sweet savour of Christ in all we speak or do.
4. The treasure hid in the field, which is Christ himself, and the great and precious promises that are in him. The field is the Scripture, wherein He is revealed to us, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and from whom the most inestimable riches to a sinner, of pardon, peace, righteousness, and grace, are to be derived. These are hid from us in our state of nature: though we have the Scriptures before us, we cannot look farther than the surface of them, till God imparts the spiritual understanding, and enables us to dig deep in the precious mine. When we have found the treasure, we must hide it in our hearts; and nothing can equal the joy with which a poor sinner discovers the riches of the grace revealed in Jesus Christ: for the sake of this we shall be ready to part with all besides, and count an interest in his love and favour the most invaluable treasure.
5. The parable of the pearl of great price is much of the same import with the foregoing. The merchant is the convinced sinner, seeking after Christ and his salvation, the pearl of great price, an object indeed deserving our most eager pursuit. Shall merchants compass sea and land for one poor jewel; and shall we not be more assiduous in securing an interest in Jesus, and the possession of all the jewels of grace and glory? He finds it, as all who truly seek the Saviour assuredly will; and then with cheerfulness sells all to become possessor of it; content to quit the world, with all its riches, honours, pleasures; and his sins, with all their allurements; that Christ may be to him all and in all.
6. The parable of the net cast into the sea, with the explication annexed. The net is the Gospel preached to every creature; the ministers of Christ are the fishermen, who cast it into the sea, the world: by it a multitude of souls are inclosed, and brought into the visible church. When it is full, in the latter days, and all, both Jews and Gentiles, are gathered into it, then cometh the end, when the net shall be drawn to shore, in the great day of final separation, and the contents of it be examined. The good fish, the just, who in Christ Jesus are justified from all things, and found faithful, shall be gathered into the vessels of glory prepared for their reception; while the angels, the ministers employed in this service, shall separate the bad, the wicked, from among them, and cast them away as vile and reprobate into the everlasting burnings. Note; (1.) Many, who have had a place in the Gospel church, will at the last day be rejected by the great Head of the church, as hypocrites and unfaithful. (2.) They who live in wickedness, have nothing to expect but an eternity of woe. (3.) The consideration of the dreadful end of those who perish should awaken our greater solicitude to make our calling and election sure.
7. The parable of the householder aptly finishes, as the practical improvement of the whole. Our Lord had interrogated them on their proficiency, whether they had understood the meaning of the parables which he had uttered; and as they had replied in the affirmative, he directs them to the proper use of the knowledge which they possessed. They were to be evangelical Scribes to preach the everlasting Gospel, as the Scribes in their days expounded the law: and herein they were to resemble a householder, who, having made a liberal provision for the family under his care, brings forth out of his storehouse things new and old, as each is best suited to their wants. The family under our care is the church of Christ, that particular part of it to which we are ordained to minister. Our treasure is the word of truth, and Christ especially therein revealed, with all experimental knowledge of him in all his offices, of the riches of his salvation, and the obligations to love and serve him thence arising. These we must set before the people, drawn from the sacred storehouses of the Old and New Testament; inculcating anew ancient truths; adding to old experiences, new observations; and providing thus a supply of spiritual food, suited to every state, condition, and circumstance of the people whom we serve. And this wisdom, this ability to minister, no attainments of science, no researches of philosophy, no force of genius can bestow: it is the gift of the great Master of the family, the Lord Jesus; and they who would savingly teach others the doctrines of the kingdom, must be themselves first taught of him.
3rdly, When Jesus had finished this discourse, he returned to his own city Nazareth, where he had before been so contumeliously treated, and where he again met the like contempt.
1. Though they could not help being astonished at the wisdom and authority with which he spoke in their synagogue, and the mighty works that he performed, yet their questions shew the prejudices which they entertained against him. They knew his parentage and education: he had not been brought up under their admired doctors; and his father was of no higher rank than a carpenter: his mother Mary, a woman of no account; and his brethren and sisters mean, low, and illiterate people: and at this they stumbled, despised his person, and slighted his ministry.
2. Christ gently rebukes their unreasonable prejudices, and punishes them for their low thoughts of him. They acted according to vulgar prepossessions, which lead us to pay little reverence and respect to those with whom we have been familiar; and if they rise to superior excellence, and above their former station, they are envied. Therefore, since they despised and rejected him, refused to believe his doctrine, and submit to the evidence of his miracles, he did not many mighty works there; not for want of power, but in just judgment; leaving them to their unbelief and hardness of heart. Note; (1.) Prejudice entertained against ministers is a great obstruction to our profiting by their labours. (2.) We owe it to our unbelief, that we see and experience no more of the mighty works of Jesus.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13