Click here to get started today!
A few remarks by way of introduction to the characteristic portion of this chapter (Matthew 13:1-52).
(1) We have here a collection of the Lord's parables, all spoken, as it would appear, at an early period in his ministry, descriptive of the principles of the kingdom of heaven as they make themselves felt in history, and of the way in which those who are brought into contact with the kingdom ought to act. As the chapter stands, it consists of three chief parts, which probably roughly correspond to three stages of development in its composition.
(a) Matthew 13:1-23, also in Mark and Luke, except some characteristic enlargements in verses 10-17. The section contains the parable of the sower and its interpretation, together with a statement of our Lord's reasons for teaching by parables. This is so nearly akin to the fundamental lesson of the first parable, that we cannot be surprised that the two should be recorded together. They seem, indeed, to have formed the nucleus of the whole collection.
(b) Verses 24-35, of which verses 31, 32 alone are found both in Mark and Luke. Verses 34, 35 also are represented in Mark, besides some expressions occurring in verses 24-30. This part contains the parables of the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven, and a statement flint our Lord spoke in parables to the multitudes, together with a passage from the Old Testament illustrating his doing so.
(c) Verses 36-52. A series wholly peculiar to our Gospel, containing matter addressed to the disciples alone (the explanation of the parable of the tares, and the three parables of the treasure, the pearl, and the dragnet), ending with a special promise to disciples as such.
(2) But although this chapter is apparently the result of growth and development, this does not exclude the probability that it is no chance collection of fragmentary parables, but rather a mosaic of which the several parts stand in artistic relation to each other and are intended to form one whole. According to Bengel, and his opinion has been essentially adopted by many writers, the seven parables form a prophecy of seven ages of the Church: the first and second parables describing the apostolic and sub-apostolic periods; the third and fourth, the spread of the kingdom among princes and amongst the whole human race (referring more especially to the fourth and the ninth centuries); the fifth, the more hidden condition of the Church ("the reign of the beast, and the Reformation"); the sixth, the time when the kingdom of heaven shall be valued above all else, and Satan be bound; the seventh, the last confusion. But this is singularly imaginative, and at the very most can only be so far true that the tendencies described under each parable may possibly, one cannot say more, be stronger at the several times referred to than at others.
It is far more natural to see in the parables a summary by our Lord of certain principles which are always at work, i.e. "the ideas and laws, not the actual facts, of the Church's history". Thus we have the leading thoughts of the dissemination and reception of the kingdom of God (the sower), the obstacles to its success that exist even within its borders (the tares), its external and internal influence (the mustard seed and the leaven), the need for making it a personal possession, cost what it may, especially as it is worth all else (the treasure and the pearl), and the necessity of personal holiness if the benefit of being within it is not to be lost.
(3) It will have been noticed that our Lord did not use parables in the earlier part of his ministry (even Matthew 7:24, sqq., is hardly more than an illustration), and that when he began to use them it was a matter of surprise to his disciples, who asked him his reason for doing so (verse 10). This was, as appears from verse 12, because of the value of parables as a means of κρίσις. Just as his coming was in itself to test men's hearts, and to act upon them according to their moral state (John 9:39; cf. John 3:19; Luke 2:35), so in measure were all his sayings. But if "the primary end [of a parable] everywhere is to place the doctrine, as yet unknown to the hearers, so directly before their eyes that they shall intuitively recognize its truth", it is evident that a parable was especially calculated to form a test of the moral state of those to whom it was spoken. If they did not really care for spiritual things, they would, either from sheer moral inability or from a lazy unwillingness to apply their attention or make further inquiries, fail to catch the lesson which the parable was intended to convey; while if they were in a favourable state for its reception, they would learn fresh truth from it. But if parables were so valuable why did not our Lord employ them from the beginning of his ministry? Just because they were so decisive in their effects, he wished at first to be as plain spoken as possible, but when he saw that in the majority of his hearers his words produced no spiritual result, he then employed a method of teaching which should bring out their characters more clearly (cf. farther verses 10-17, and notes).
The parable of the sower. Parallel passages: Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8.
The same day; on that day (Revised Version). Although day is sometimes used in a metaphorical sense, so as to include what is, in fact, a long period of time, yet we are not justified in assigning this sense to it unless the context clearly requires us to do so. This is not the case here, so that we must assume that a literal day is intended. But which day? Naturally, the day that has just before been mentioned, either in the original source from which our narrative is taken or in the narrative as it now stands. Since, however, Matthew 12:46-50 and our Matthew 12:1-23 appear to have been already connected in the framework, these supposed alternatives really represent the same thing, the phrase probably referring to the day on which our Lord's mother and brethren sought to speak to him (Matthew 12:46). Went Jesus out of the house. Where he had been when his mother came (Matthew 12:46, note), and presumably the one to which he returned in Matthew 12:36. Possibly it was St. Peter's house at Capernaum (Matthew 8:14). And sat (Matthew 5:1, note). By the seaside. Until the crowds compelled him to enter the boat.
And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship. The article wrongly inserted in the Received Text (τὸ πλοῖον) suggests that it was the boat which, as some think, waited upon him. (For another occasion when he taught from a boat, cf. Luke 5:3.) And sat; and the whole multitude stood; was standing. The position of ἱστήκει at the end of the sentence in the Greek emphasizes their attitude. Their numbers compelled it, and they disregarded the fatigue. Further, the tense (pluperf., equivalent to imperf.) pictures them as patiently standing there. On the shore; beach (Revised Version); ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλόν: i.e. this part at least of the shore was covered with sand or pebbles. Possibly we have signs of an eyewitness, both in the exact description of the spot, and in the vividness of the ἱστήκει.
And he spake many things. Of which but a few are here recorded (cf. Matthew 13:34, Matthew 13:51). Unto them in parables. Taking the expression in the widest sense, "speaking in parables" began in the very earliest ages, when natural or spiritual truths were described under figures taken from everyday life, and continues until the present time, more especially among Eastern nations. Interesting examples of such a method of instruction are to be seen in the Haggadoth (which are frequently parabolic narratives) of the Talmuds and other Jewish works. But both myth (cf. Alford) and parabolic Haggada share the common danger of being misunderstood as narratives which are intended to be taken literally, while in the parable, in the narrower sense of the word, such a confusion is hardly possible. For the narrative then suggests, either by its introduction or its structure, that it is only the mirror by which a truth can be seen, and is not the truth itself. Such parables also, though seldom even approaching in beauty to our Lord's, are very frequent in Jewish writings, though they come but seldom in the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:23-29; 2 Samuel 12:1-6; 2 Samuel 14:6-11; 1 Kings 20:35-40; comp. also Isaiah 5:1-7 and Ezekiel 17:1-10, which are rather allegories; and Judges 9:7-15 and 2 Kings 14:9, which are fables). (On the distinction of parable in the narrower sense from fable, myth, proverb, allegory, see Alford and Trench.) Weiss ('Life,' 2.115) thinks that the most profound reason of all which the Lord had for employing parables was that he wished to show that the same regulations which hold good for the world round us and ourselves in relation to the world and each other, hold good also in the higher ethical and religious life. But at the most this can have been a very subsidiary motive with him. Saying, Behold, a sower. Observe that our Lord enters upon his parable at once (contrast Matthew 13:24). He will attract attention. Mark's "Hear ye" would have forwarded this. A sower; literally, the sower, as the Revised Version; i.e. the sower of whom I am about to speak (cf. Driver on 1 Samuel 19:13; also Matthew 1:23; Matthew 12:43). Went forth. In the Greek this verb comes first, as though our Lord wished to call attention, not so much to the sower himself as to his action. To sow.
And when (as, Revised Version) he sowed, some seeds (ἂ μέν). Here (cf. Matthew 13:5, Matthew 13:7, Matthew 13:8) the seeds are, so to speak, each singled out. But in the parallel passages they are viewed as one whole (ὃ μέν). Fell by the wayside. Along the road (παρὰ την), which evidently was at no mere corner of the field, but ran for some distance by or through it. And the fowls (birds, Revised Version, as in modern English) came and devoured them up.
Some (and others, Revised Version) fell upon stony places; the rocky places (Revised Version). Where the underlying rock was hardly, if at all, covered by soil. Such spots would be common in the fields of Palestine, as in those of all mountainous countries. Where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprang up (ἐξανέτειλεν). They shot up quicker than the thorns in Matthew 13:7 (ἀνέβησαν). Because they had no deepness of earth.
And when the sun was up (ἀνατείλαντος). It can hardly be accidental that the Greek suggests the contrast between the springing up of the seeds and of the sun's rays. They were scorched; and because they had not root, they withered away (cf. John 15:6).
And some fell among thorns; upon the thorns (Revised Version); which were sure to be close by (cf. Jeremiah 4:3). And the thorns sprang up (grew up, Revised Version, ἀνέβησαν), and choked them. Whether brambles or merely spinous weeds are here referred to is not certain. Even the former might be comparatively low in sowing time, and only as they "grew up" cause serious injury to the wheat.
But other fell into (upon the, Revised Version) good ground, and brought forth (yielded, Revised Version, ἐδίδου); for effort is not implied. Contrast ἐποίησεν in Luke and Matthew 7:18, note. Fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, some thirty fold. In Mark the numbers increase. Is this due to a desire to avoid even the semblance of a contradiction to αὐξανόμενα, that there precedes? In Luke "hundredfold" alone comes, the difference that exists even in the good ground not being mentioned. (For hundredfold, comp. Genesis 26:12. Compare also the note on Luke 8:8 in this Commentary for instances of still greater production, and for the beautiful parabolic saying recorded by Papias' Elders (Iren., Luke 5:33. Luke 5:3).)
Who hath ears to hear (Revised Version omits to hear), let him hear. So in all the accounts. Observe that it is not only a call to understand the parable, but is in itself a summary of the chief lesson of the parable. (On the phrase, see Matthew 11:15, note.)
The reason why Christ spoke to the multitudes in parables.
The question of the disciples (Matthew 13:10).
Christ's antithesis—You are the recipients of God's gift; they are not (Matthew 13:11).
This is not arbitrary, but in accordance with a universal law (Matthew 13:12).
They have not been using their faculties, and therefore they are thus judged, in accordance with the words of Isaiah (verses 13-15).
The privilege of the disciples further insisted upon (verses 16, 17).
Matthew alone in this form. In Luke the disciples asked our Lord what the parable was; in Mark, more generally, they "asked of him the parables." Whether the question as given by St. Matthew was actually spoken by the disciples or not, the Lord's answer, the substance of which is the same in all three accounts, suggests that it at least represents their thoughts. St. Matthew probably wishes to bring out with special clearness, by his version of their words, the point of our Lord's reply. And the disciples. Including more than the twelve; so Mark, "They that were about him with the twelve" (cf. Matthew 5:1, note) Came. Presumably some little time afterwards, for he must have left the boat (verse 2). And said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? Them; i.e. those outside the circle of Christ's followers. For the general meaning of our Lord's reply to this question, see the remarks at the beginning of this chapter. Other questions about our Lord's reasons for what he did are to be found in Matthew 9:11, Matthew 9:14; Matthew 15:2; Matthew 17:19; Matthew 26:8 (cf. also Matthew 12:2 with Luke 6:2).
He answered and said unto them, Because. Omit because, with the Revised Version. The ὅτι is merely recitative. In this verse our Lord does not directly reply to their question, but only states God's ways of dealing with the two different classes of people (cf. Matthew 11:25, note). It is given unto you (unto you it is given, Revised Version); which better represents the sharpness of the antithesis in the Greek. It is given; already (δέδοται), i.e. in the counsel of God, though now given in possession, so far as regards this parable, by the explanation that I will add. To know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The secrets about the establishment and development of God's realm, which cannot be discovered by human reason, but which are made known to the initiated. Under the term "mystery," St. Paul refers to such revealed secrets as the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:3, Ephesians 3:4, Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26), the conversion of the Jews (Romans 11:25), the relation of Christ to the Church being like that of husband and wife (Ephesians 5:32), and the general resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51). (Cf. Matthew 11:25, note, "revealed;" and infra, verse 35, note, and especially Bishop Lightfoot on the passage in Colossians.) But to them it is not given. Professor Marshall suggests that the variation "the rest" (Luke), points to a slight difference in one word of the original Aramaic text, the phrase in Mark ("them that are without") combining both readings (see Expositor IV. 4.446). The suggestion is ingenious, but seems hardly necessary.
Matthew only in this context, but found in the parallel passages shortly after the explanation of this parable—Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18. The same saying is found in Matthew 25:29 (the talents) and Luke 19:26 (the pounds). For. The reason of God's action spoken of in the preceding verse. It is based on the following principle. Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance. The last phrase (Matthew only) is probably dub to a reminiscence of the form in which the saying was uttered at a much later period in our Lord's ministry, where it arises naturally out of the parable (Matthew 25:29). But whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. A paradox. What he already possesses, if it is so small as to be not worth speaking of, shall be lost to him. Luke's "thinketh he hath" calls attention to the superficial character of the man's mind. The unfit ground loses the seed it receives (cf. the remarks at the beginning of this chapter).
Therefore (διὰ τοῦτο). To carry out the principle of the whole preceding verse, but with special reference to the second half of it. Because, in this case, they "have not," therefore I speak to them thus. Speak I to them in parables because. In the parallel passages Christ says that he speaks in parables "in order that seeing," etc.; but here, "because seeing,'' etc. The difference of the thought, which is more formal than real, is that
(1) in the parallel passages their moral blindness and deafness are represented as the effect of what he says, parables being used to bring about the punishment for what was presumably earlier sloth.
(2) In Matthew their present moral blindness and deafness are represented as the reason for the use of parables. Parables are themselves the punishment; the people are fit for nothing else (thus laying stress on the "has not" of verse 12); therefore Christ speaks to them in parables. They seeing see not (seeing they see not, Revised Version, keeping the order of the Greek, as even the Authorized Version in the next clause); and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. The participles "seeing," "hearing," in Matthew and Luke, probably do not represent the Hebrew infinitive in its common usage of giving intensity or continuance to the idea of the finite verb to which it is joined, but are to be taken separately, i.e." Though they have powers of seeing and of hearing, they nevertheless do not so use these powers as to see and hear" (for the thought, cf. Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2). Thus in meaning, though not in form, as compared with the next verse, seeing is equivalent to "seeing ye shall see;" they see not, to "and shall in no wise perceive;" hearing, to "hearing ye shall hear;" they hear not, to "and shall in no wise understand."
And in them; and unto them (Revised Version); i.e. with reference to them (cf. Jude 1:14). Is fulfilled. Completely (ἀναπληροῦται; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:16). The present, because the process is still going on. The prophecy of Esaias, which saith (Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10). Not quoted in this form in the parallel passages; for Mark 4:12 and Luke 8:10 are really nearer our Luke 8:13. The quotation is taken verbally from the LXX., and so in Acts 28:26, Acts 28:27. But John 12:40, on the contrary, is nearer the Hebrew. By hearing ye shall hear (ἀκοῇ ἀκούσετε). A too literal translation of the Greek attempt to reproduce the Hebrew idiom, which is rather "hear ye indeed" as a continued action (עומש ועמש). And shall not understand (Matthew 11:25, note); and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. You may gaze at the object, but you shall not really see it. So with the bodily eye, an image may be formed in the retina, yet no impression conveyed to the brain.
For this people's heart is waxed gross. There are two ways of understanding this verse as it comes here.
(1) It states the reason why God pronounced the judgment of Matthew 13:14. The people's heart had already become fat, lest (μή ποτε will then express the effect from the Divine point of view) they should see, etc.
(2) It merely enlarges the statement of Matthew 13:14, expanding its meaning: their heart is waxed fat (by God's judgment for preceding sins), lest they should see, etc. This second explanation is preferable, for it alone suits the imperative found in the Hebrew (cf. the transitive verbs in John 12:40), and is strictly parallel to the introductory Matthew 13:11-13, which do not dwell upon the causes of God's judgment. And their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time (Matthew 4:6, note) they should see; perceive (Revised Version)—to recall the same word in Matthew 13:14. With their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart. Bengel calls attention to the order; first came heart, ears, eyes; here, eyes, ears, heart. "A corde corruptio manat in aures et oculos: per oculos et aures sanitas pervenit ad cor." And should be converted; and should turn again (Revised Version, ἐπιστρέψωσι); for "to be converted" has acquired too technical a meaning. And I should heal them (καὶ ἰάσομαι αὐτούς). The verb is still dependent on the lest (cf. Matthew 5:25; Matthew 7:6), but the future brings out the certainty of God's healing them on their turning, etc.
Matthew 13:16, Matthew 13:17
Parallel passage: Luke 10:23, Luke 10:24, after the return of the seventy, and immediately following our Matthew 11:25, Matthew 11:27. The verses stand there, that is to say, in close connexion with the other great utterance contrasting God's revelation of spiritual things to some and his hiding them from others. Possibly he spoke the verses only once (cf. the repetitions in the Prophets), but, in view of the frequency with which Christ's utterances are placed out of their original connexion, the assumption should be the other way. If he really only spoke them once, we cannot be sure which the occasion was, but the possibility that they do not properly belong here is increased by the doubt whether also Matthew 11:12 was originally spoken now.
But blessed (Matthew 5:3, note) are your eyes. Christ now returns to emphasize Matthew 13:11. For they see (ὅτι βλέπουσιν). This may refer to the disciples being able to see spiritual truths before God's special grace given them by way of reward to this effect, but this hardly suits the context from the phrase, "it is given" (Matthew 13:12). It is, therefore, better to understand the verse to refer to their seeing and hearing things by virtue of grace given in reward for earlier faithfulness. Edersheim ('Life,' 1:594) gives a striking illustration of the thought of this verse from the 'Pesiqta'.
For verily (Matthew 5:18, note). Not in the parallel passage; it is much more common in Matthew than Luke. Our Lord contrasts his disciples' "blessedness" not only with the state of their contemporaries, but with that of their predecessors in faith. I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men. Those who were specially favoured with insight into God's methods, and those who approached most closely to his standard of righteousness. Righteous men; "kings" in Luke. St. Luke's readers would probably not appreciate the force of the term, "righteous men." to the same degree that St. Matthew's would. Have desired (ἐπεθύμησαν). By reading ἐπεθύμησα, this saying has been attributed to Christ. To see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (cf. Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:10-12).
The explanation of the parable of the sower. Parallel passages: Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15. Observe that after the preceding verses St. Matthew's readers would the more easily catch the lesson of the parable.
Matthew only. Hear ye therefore; Revised Version, hear ye then, which leaves more room for the rightful emphasis on ye (ὑμεῖς) than the Authorized Version, but hardly gives the full force of οὖν (therefore), i.e. in accordance with the privileges that have been given you. The parable of the sower.
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not. Understandeth. The form of the explanation here is influenced by the language of Matthew 13:14, Matthew 13:15. Then (not in the Greek) cometh the wicked one; the evil one (Revised Version); Matthew 6:13, note. And catcheth (snatcheth, Revised Version) away—seizeth for himself (ἁρπάζει, Matthew 11:12, note)—that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed. That was sown (Revised Version, ὁσπαρείς). And so throughout. The masculine is not merely concise, but also expresses the fact that, as even with land, the man who receives the seed does not put forth in turn merely the seed as something alien, but rather himself so far as he is influenced by the seed; or (regarding the subject from another point of view) he puts forth the new life and energy of the seed as conditioned by that which makes up himself.
And anon; and straightway (Revised Version, καις).
But dureth for a while (ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιρός ἐστιν). Luke's οἱπρὸς καιρὸν πιστεύουσιν, is an evidently later form. (For the thought, cf. John 5:35.) By and by; straightway (Revised Version, εὐθύς). He is offended (Matthew 5:29, note).
And the care (ἡμέριμνα); Matthew 6:25, note. Of this world (of the world, Revised Version, τοῦ αἰῶνος, omitting the τούτου of the Received Text). Choke the word. Which is no unchanging thing, but is always affected for good or evil, however great progress it has made.
Which also; who verily (Revised Version, ὃς δή), the particle giving exactness, to the relative (see Dr. Moulton's note at the end of Winer, § 53). Some; ὃ μεν (Westcott and Hort). Neuter, and so the Vulgate. Nominative, the thought refers to the seed as such (cf. Matthew 13:8). An hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. "100 longius absunt a 60, quam 60 a 30. Habenti dabitur" (Bengel). The reason of the difference in the produce of the good ground is not stated, but, according to the tenor of the whole passage since Matthew 13:3. this lay in a difference already existing within this good ground. Into the question of the ultimate cause of some men being in a better state of preparedness to receive Divine truths than others, our Lord does not enter. Prevenient grace is not always to be insisted upon in practical exhortation.
The parable of the tares. Matthew only. The parable of the sower dealt with the first reception of the gospel; this deals with the after-development.
The aim of this parable is to prevent over-sanguine expectations as to the purity of the society of believers, and to hinder rash attempts to purify it by merely external processes. Archbishop Benson ('Dict. of Christian Biogr.,' 1:745) calls attention to the fact that the first extant exposition of this parable is in Cyprian's successful appeal to the Novatianists not to separate from the Church.
The aim of the somewhat similar parable in Mark 4:26-29 is to show the slowness and gradualness of the growth of the kingdom of heaven, and also the certainty of its consummation. So many words and phrases in the two parables are identical, that the possibility of one being derived from the other, either by omission or addition, must be acknowledged, but the definiteness of the aim in each points rather to their being originally two distinct parables.
The divisions of the parable are—
(1) The fact of tares being present as well as good seed, and its cause (Mark 4:24-28).
(2) Although there is the natural desire to gather out the tares at once, yet, on account of the impossibility of doing so without destroying some of the good seed, this must not be attempted. At the proper time full separation shall be made by the proper agents (Mark 4:28-30).
Another parable put he forth unto them; set he before them (Revised Version, παρέθηκεν αὐτοῖς); so also Matthew 13:31. (cf. also Exodus 19:7; Acts 17:3). Elsewhere it is often used of setting food before any one; e.g. Mark 6:41; Mark 8:6; Luke 11:6; Acts 16:34. Them. The people (Acts 16:3, Acts 16:10, Acts 16:34). Saying, The kingdom of heaven. The principles of its establishment and full development. Is likened unto (ὡμοιώθη). The aorist regards the moment in our Lord's mind in which he made the comparison. Observe that the verb is transitional; in Acts 16:3 our Lord began his parable without any introduction, so that he might attract attention; here he says that he gives an illustration of the kingdom of heaven; but in the later parables of this discourse (Acts 16:31, Acts 16:33, 44, 45, 47; cf. 52) he is able merely to say that the kingdom of heaven is, in its principles, etc., absolutely like (ὁμοῖα ἐστίν). A man which sowed. Explained as "the Son of man" in Acts 16:37. Good seed; "the sons of the kingdom" (Acts 16:38); i.e. the seed represents, not good or bad doctrine as such, but persons. In his field; "the world" (Acts 16:37). Not exactly the Church, i.e. the Church upon earth, but the world so far as it is the sphere of the Church's missionary activity, even the physical world so far as it becomes the scene of Divine sowing of the gospel.
But while men slept. Not in the explanation. If more than merely a part of the necessary framework of the story, it points to the secrecy with which the devil works. His enemy came. This form of malice is still well known in the East (cf. Exell's 'Biblical Illustrator,' in loc.). And sowed. Sowed over or in (ἐπέσπειρεν). Tares; i.e. bearded darnel, Lolium temulentum, "a kind of rye grass, and the only species of the grass family the seeds of which are poisonous. The derivation of zawan [ζιζάνια] is from zan, 'vomiting,' the effect of eating darnel being to produce violent nausea, convulsions, and diarrhoea, which frequently ends in death". Among the wheat, and went his way; went away (Revised Version, ἀπῆλθεν).
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit. Observe that there is no thought of the tares injuring the wheat (contrast Matthew 13:7, Matthew 13:22). Then appeared the tares also.
So; and (Revised Version, δέ). The servants of the householder came. The explanation (Matthew 13:38) does not say who are represented by these; they must be really identical with some of the wheat, yet since they are spoken of as though they are also the agents of the Sower, they must represent the more active, and especially the ministerial, members of the kingdom. Is it a mere coincidence that historically the clergy have shown themselves always the most eager advocates of the policy of rooting up the tares? And said unto him: Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? Thy. For the knowledge that the world belongs to God, and is under his governance and care, makes the question so much the more serious to the servants.
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. An enemy (ἔχθρος ἄνθρωπος). Not "my enemy," referring to some one person, for in real life a man can seldom be at once sure, without inquiry, who it is that has injured him secretly. There are so many coincidences in this verse and Matthew 13:39 (ἔχθρος ἄνθρωπος τοῦτο ἐποίησεν, [Ἁμάν] πονηρὸς [οὗτος], ὁδιάβολος) with the LXX. of Esther 7:4-6, that it would almost seem as though the evangelist remembered that passage. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? Omit up (συλλέξωμεν); the servants, in their zeal to separate the tares from the wheat, forget the difficulty connected with pulling them up.
But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Wetstein, on Matthew 13:39, quotes an interesting parallel spoken by R. Joshua ben Korcha (Talm. Bah., 'Baba Metzia,' 83b).
To the reapers. Not all my servants, but they to whom such work belongs (cf. Goebel); i.e. the angels (Matthew 13:39). Gather ye together; gather up (Revised Version), because the same word (συλλέγειν) is employed as in Matthew 13:28. This command belongs to the time after the field is reaped. First the tares. The tares are to be separated and gathered together before the wheat is garnered. And hind them in bundles to burn them: but gather (συνάγετε). This word regards rather the destination, συλλέγειν the operation. The wheat into my barn (Matthew 3:12, notes).
Matthew 13:31, Matthew 13:32
The parable of the mustard seed. Parallel passages: Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18, Luke 13:19. The central thought of the parable is the growth of the kingdom of heaven considered externally. Although it has small beginnings, it is to have a marvellous expansion, so that even those who naturally are outside it are glad to avail themselves of its protection. Observe that we have no right to limit its growth either to the reputation of its principles alone or to the power of its organization; both are included.
Regarded as a prophecy, the parable is partially fulfilled every time that a heathen nation places itself under the protection of a Christian nation, and more truly fulfilled whenever a nation accepts Christianity as its own religion. It is parodied when a nation or a collection of nations submits its political freedom to the dictates of claimants to spiritual superiority, whether these claim to have received such superiority as an inheritance from the past, or to have acquired it in the present.
Another parable put he forth unto them (Matthew 13:24, note), saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto (Matthew 13:24, note; also Matthew 11:16, note) a grain of mustard seed. "The Common Mustard of Palestine is Sinapis nigra, of the order Cruciferae, the Black Mustard, which is found abundantly in a wild state, and is also cultivated in the gardens for its seed. It is the same as our own Mustard, but grows especially in the richer soils of the Jordan valley to a much greater size than in this country. We noticed its great height on the banks of the Jordan, as have several other travellers; and Dr. Thomson remarks that in the Plain of Acre he has seen it as tall as a horse and its rider". Which a man took. The insertion of λαβών is probably to exclude the idea of a chance sowing. True that the seed might, under certain circumstances, then grow as well, but the reality which is being described was the result of long and deliberate purpose (Titus 1:3; 1 Peter 1:20). And sowed in his field. "His garden" (Luke) suggests a piece of ground that was at once smaller and more cared for.
Which indeed is the least of (is less than, Revised Version) all seeds; i.e. all those ordinarily sown in Palestine then. Instances of the proverbial use in the Talmuds of the size of a grain of mustard to express something very small, may be seen in Levy, s.v. לדרח. But when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs; it is greater than the herbs (Revised Version); i.e. than those which are usually called λάχανα. And becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air. There is not necessarily any connotation of evil about these (cf. Matthew 13:4, Matthew 13:19); the thought is simply that those who are naturally outsiders are glad to come under cover of this tree. Compare, for both thought and language, Daniel's description of the empire of Babylon (Daniel 4:12, Daniel 4:21), and Ezekiel's prophecy of the kingdom of Judah (Ezekiel 17:23). Come and lodge in the branches thereof. Lodge (κατασκηνοῖν); Matthew 8:20, note. In Palestine the goldfinches and linnets settle on the mustard in flocks.
The parable of the leaven. Parallel passage: Luke 13:20, Luke 13:21. The growth of the kingdom regarded in its quiet and secret influence. This is to be ultimately complete and universal. The prophecy is partially fulfilled with every fresh recognition of Christian principles in public opinion, or customs, or laws. For "every thought" shall be brought "captive unto the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven. This is the only passage where leaven is spoken of with reference to its permeating qualities alone, without any trace of the notion of defilement, which the Paschal and other regulations (Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:18; Exodus 23:15, Exodus 23:18; Le Exodus 2:11) so readily suggested. Even in 1 Corinthians 5:6 and Galatians 5:9 this connotation of evil is not altogether absent. In Talm. Bab., 'Berach.,' 17a, it is used as a figure of the "evil impulse" within us. Hence some have interpreted it in a similar sense here, and have understood our Lord to be referring to the spread of worldliness in the Church (especially after the conversion of Constantine); but
(1) this is opposed to the prima facie meaning;
(2) it is unreasonable to insist that a symbol must always have the same connotation;
(3) it is opposed to the idea of deliberate purpose underlying the action of the woman;
(4) the closing words would cast too awful a shadow—they would mean that Christianity fails. Which a woman took (verse 31, note), and hid. The woman probably belongs entirely to the framework of the parable (cf. Luke 15:4, Luke 15:8). For the work described is always, in normal societies, performed by women. Of other interpretations that which sees in her the Church as the agent by whom the kingdom of God is wrought into the world is the best. In three measures of meal; i.e. an ephah. This appears to have been a convenient quantity (about a peck) for kneading at one time (Genesis 18:6; Judges 6:19). Until the whole was leavened; literally, until it was leavened, even the whole of it (ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον). While our Lord thus promises that the permeating influence of the kingdom of heaven shall at last be entirely successful, it is unfair to so press the parable as to deduce from it that the world as such will continue to be gradually and continuously improved up to the Lord's return. It may be so (contrast, however, Luke 18:8), but even direct prophecy, and still more parable, frequently regards the ultimate result, and passes over the intermediate stages.
Matthew 13:34, Matthew 13:35
The parallel passage in Mark 4:33, Mark 4:34 is as follows: "And with many such parables spoke he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it; and without a parable spoke he not unto them: but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things." The same general idea underlies our present verses, but although each evangelist appears to have used the same words as a basis, he has worked them out in his own characteristic way. For while both writers contrast our Lord's treatment of the multitudes and his treatment of the disciples in the matter of parables, St. Mark barely alludes to his using them as a judicial punishment upon the people, and St. Matthew merely hints here at the fact that Christ explained them to his disciples (see further, verse 35b, note).
It will be noticed that our verses have much in common with the thought of verse 10, sqq. It seems just possible that both paragraphs had one common nucleus from which they were each developed. But according to existing evidence, verse 10, sqq., and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke serve to introduce explanatory matter to the disciples, and our present verses with the parallel in Mark to close a series of parables.
All these things (ταῦτα πάντα). All seems to imply that the four preceding parables are but a few typical ones taken from a larger collection. Spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; in parables unto the multitudes (Revised Version); for the order of the Greek is the same as in the next clause. Observe the "parallelism" of the two clauses. Is it due to the influence of Hebrew Christians? And without a parable spake he not (nothing, Revised Version, ebony) unto them, As happens often in Semitic writers (cf. St. John's Gospel), the thought of the preceding clause is now expressed negatively, and yet a fresh thought is added, namely, that he spake in parables alone. Nothing (Revised Version); i.e. under these circumstances, when large crowds of Galilaeans were listening to him. Spake (ἐλάλει: contrast ἐλάλησεν before); i.e. during this period.
That it might be fulfilled (Matthew 1:22, note) which was spoken by (through, Revised Version; Matthew 1:22, note) the prophet; rather, Isaiah the prophet, according to the margin of Westcott and Hort, on the evidence of the original hand of the Sinaitic and a few cursive manuscripts, the Rushworth Latin Gospels, a manuscript of the AEthiopic Version, the Clementine Homilies, Porphyry as quoted by Jerome, and remarks by Eusebius. Dr. Herr ('Appendix') writes, "It is difficult not to think Ἠσαίου genuine. There was a strong temptation to omit it (cf. Isaiah 27:9; Micah 1:2); and, though its insertion might be accounted for by an impulse to supply the name of the best known prophet, the evidence of the actual operation of such an impulse is much more trifling than might have been anticipated .. The erroneous introduction of Isaiah's name is limited to two passages, and in each case to a single Latin manuscript." If it be genuine, it is a parallel case to the reading "Jeremiah" instead of "Zechariah" in Matthew 27:9, for which no satisfactory explanation has yet been suggested. A simple error of memory (cf. Alford) on the part of one who shows himself so well acquainted with Hebrew customs and modes of thought as our evangelist does, is perhaps the most improbable of all solutions. Possibly, just as there were summaries of legal maxims current in our Lord's time (cf. Matthew 5:21, note), so there were in Hebrew-Christian circles well known sets of quotations from the Old Testament, which were not expressly divided one from another (cf. Romans 3:10-18), and which were ferreted to under the name of the author of the best known passage. (Observe that this would distinguish these summaries from liturgical quotations.) Thus Zechariah's mention of the potter (Zechariah 11:13) was placed in connexion with Jeremiah's visit to the potter's house, and with his warning of the possible rejection of Israel (Jeremiah 18:1-6; cf. Jeremiah 19:1-11); cf. further Pusey's remarks on the passage in Zechariah, and Psalms 78:2 (or perhaps Psalms 78:1-3), where Israel is bid listen to the lessons derived from their ancestors' behaviour, with the warning in Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10. We have an example of a similar connexion of passages in Mark 1:2, Mark 1:3, where Malachi 3:1 is closely joined to Isaiah 40:3. Observe that if St. Mark had copied his source (ex hypothesi) to the end of the quotation from Malachi, and for some reason omitted the next quotation, he might very easily have still retained the name "Isaiah" with which he introduces his double quotation. Had he done so, we should have had another parallel to our present verse and Matthew 27:9. The prophet. If "Isaiah" be not genuine, this refers to "Asaph the seer" (2 Chronicles 29:30), who was the recognized author of the psalm. So David is called "a prophet" in Acts 2:30. Saying, I will open my mouth (Matthew 5:2, note) in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. From Psalms 78:1, Psalms 78:2. The first clause of the quotation is verbally the same as the LXX., and fairly represents the meaning of the original (יף לשמב החתף)). The second clause is different from the LXX., the first verb being a literal translation from the Hebrew, and the rest a paraphrase. I will utter (ἐρεύξομαι: העיב)): so the LXX. in Psalms 19:2; and cf. Psalms 119:171; Psalms 145:7. Things which have been kept secret (κεκρυμμένα); but the Hebrew is תודיח, i.e. "enigmatical sayings." From the foundation of the world. Ἀπὸ καταβολῆς, for κόσμου of the Received Text must be omitted. But the Hebrew מדק ינם (i.e. "from of old") hardly, in the context of the psalm, refers further back than the be ginning of the national history of Israel, when the Israelites came out of Egypt. "Asaph … here recounts to the people their history from that Egyptaeo-Sinaitic age of yore to which Israel's national indepen dence and specific position in relation to the rest of the world goes back He will set forth the history of the fathers after the manner of a parable and riddle, so that it may become as a parable, i.e. a didactic history, and its events as marks of interrogation and nota benes to the present age" (Delitzsch). What, however, is the exact connexion of thought in the gospel between the passage as it stands, and its context? The first clause evidently corresponds in meaning to verse 34; Christ fulfils in a fresh sense the expression of the psalmist by speaking in parables (vide infra). But the second clause brings in a different thought, not found, save very indirectly, in verse 34, namely, that Christ utters things that be fore were always hidden. What does the evangelist mean by this second clause?
(1) Truths never before revealed have now been revealed by Christ's parables, especially by those two which have just been related. For in these it has been affirmed that outsiders, i.e. those belonging to other nations than the Jewish nation, shall seek the protection of the kingdom of heaven, and also that the whole world, including, therefore, these Gentile nations, shall become permeated with its principles. It may well be thought that the clause refers to the announcement of these great truths.
(2) This interpretation, however, if taken alone, is not enough. For the evangelist is not speaking of Christ revealing truths to men generally. On the contrary, he says that Christ does not reveal them to the multi tudes, but to his disciples (cf. Psalms 145:10, sqq.)—a contrast which the emphatic language of verse 34 (τοῖς ὄχλοις αὐτοῖς) would probably suggest, even though it is not expressly mentioned. It is, therefore, likely that it was this latter fact to which the evangelist specially wished to refer by his quotation of the second clause. Hence, to make his meaning clearer, he has modified its language. As he quotes it, not merely "enigmatical sayings," but "things hidden" (and that from the foundation of the world) are uttered by Christ; but these are now no longer "hidden" to those to whom he speaks them. This complete meaning of the clause—revelation to his disciples of truths before hidden—corresponds to the idea of μυστήριον in Psalms 145:11 (where see note) and in St. Paul (cf. especially Romans 16:25), and is merely another side of St. Mark's phrase, "Privately to his own disciples he expounded all things" (cf. supra, verses 16, 17). It is also possible that κεκρυμμένα, which is not merely negative, so as to mean "unrevealed," but implies a positive concealment, includes a reference to the thought of ἔκρυψας in Matthew 11:25, that God purposely hid these truths from those who were morally unfit to receive them. These, indeed, belonged in general to the times before Christ came, but also "the multitudes'' came under this category. If it be asked—What is the relation of the quotation in its context here to the verse in its original context? the easiest answer is that it is only superficial, that the "accidental" employment by the psalmist of the word "parable" was the only reason why the evangelist made the quotation. Yet it may not be quite so; for there was a real similarity between the psalmist teaching his contemporaries by history and Christ teaching his contemporaries by truths couched in narrative form. May we not go even further, and say that in both cases the message was, generally speaking, refused, though in both a remnant of those who heard it were saved (cf also Isaiah 6:9-13; vide supra)?
Christ alone with his disciples. He explains to them at their request the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:36-43), and adds three parables—the treasure, the pearl, the dragnet—the first two calculated to urge them to full renunciation of everything for Christ, the third to save them from presumption (Matthew 13:44-50). Upon their acknowledging progress in spiritual understanding, he shows them further possibilities (Matthew 13:51, Matthew 13:52).
The explanation of the parable of the tares of the field.
Then Jesus sent the multitude away; then he left the multitudes (Revised Version, ἀφείς); cf. Matthew 26:44. And went into the house (Matthew 26:1, note): and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare; explain (Revised Version, διασάφησον); i.e. make it thoroughly clear. The verb is found elsewhere in the New Testament only in Matthew 18:31, where the thought is that the man's fellow servants brought his behaviour fully before their lord's knowledge (cf. also 2 Macc. 1:18). As compared with φράσον (Received Text, and Matthew 15:15), it leaves room for the disciples having already partially understood it. Unto us the parable of the tares of the field. The addition, "of the field," indicates the point of the parable, considered even as a mere story, that the tares grew in no chance place, but in a piece of cultivated ground already allotted to other produce.
He answered and said unto them. In the following reply of our Lord (Matthew 13:37-43) observe the change of style at Matthew 13:40. Until then we have pithy, concise sentences all joined by the simple copula δέ, which can hardly be anything else than literal translations of the Lord's own phrases. But Matthew 13:40-43 are in the usual style of this Gospel. The Son of man (Matthew 8:20, note).
The children of the kingdom; the sons, etc. (Revised Version); Matthew 5:9, note. The tares are the children of the wicked one; of the evil one (Revised Version); cf. Matthew 6:13, note.
The enemy that sowed them (ὁσπείρας); contrast Matthew 13:37 (ὁσπείρων τὸ καλὸν σπέρμα). Matthew 13:37 states what is ever true; Matthew 13:39 merely refers back to the enemy spoken of in the parable. Is the devil (Matthew 4:1, note). (For the thought of this and the preceding clause, see John 8:44; 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10.) The harvest is the end of the world; literally, as the margin of the Revised Version, the consummation of the age (συντέλεια αἰῶνος); when the present age shall have received its completion, and the more glorious one be ushered in (cf. Matthew 12:32, note). And the reapers are the angels; are angels (Revised Version). But it is exactly parallel to the preceding predicate, and if the insertion of our English idiomatic "the" fails to lay the stress which the Greek has on the fact that the reapers are such beings as angels (as contrasted with human workers, Matthew 9:37, Matthew 9:38), its omission adds a thought which the Greek was probably not intended to convey—that the reapers would be only some among the angels.
As therefore. Observe that in Matthew 13:40-43 our Lord dwells at much greater length on the details of the reapers' work than on the preceding stages of the parable. lie wishes to draw special attention to the fact that the tares will, without any doubt, be one day separated, and the wheat appear in full splendour. The tares are gathered and burned in the fire—burned with fire (Revised Version); cf. Matthew 3:10, note—so shall it be in the end of this world (verse 39, note).
The Son of man. Observe how expressly Christ identifies the Sower with the Lord of the angels. Shall send forth (ἀποστελεῖ)—as his representatives (Matthew 10:2, note)—his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom—though they are now there—all things that offend, and them which do iniquity (πάντα τὰ σκάνδαλα καὶ τοῦς ποιοῦντας τὴν ἀνομιάν); all things that offend (that cause stumbling, Revised Version); Matthew 5:29, note. In itself it would naturally be understood of persons, in accordance with the meaning of "tares." But what is its relation to the following clause, for this latter cannot be merely tautological? There are two answers:
(a) The two phrases bring out different aspects under which the persons are regarded. They, as "sons of the evil one," are both stumbling blocks to others ("the sons of the kingdom"), and also active workers of lawlessness (vide infra). They sin against men (cf. Matthew 24:24) and against God.
(b) The first term regards not so much them as their actions—their scandalous acts (Goebel); the second, the persons themselves. The former of the two answers seems preferable, as keeping closer to the parable. It also agrees with the personal use of σκάνδαλον in Matthew 16:23, and the use of αὐτούς alone in the next clause. With respect to the whole phrase, observe:
(1) It is taken partly from Zephaniah 1:3 (Hebrew), "I will consume [the verb פסֵאָ would readily lend itself to the interpretation 'gather']... the stumbling blocks with the wicked (מיעשרה־תא תולשכמה … פס))."
(2) Yet, as it stands, it is taken partly also from Psalms 37:1, for the Greek of them that do iniquity is the same as in the LXX. there. Besides, the context (comp. Kirkpatrick) is not dissimilar; it is that the righteous should not be envious at the prosperity of the wicked, for it is only transitory, "They shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb."
(3) The phrase, them which do iniquity (rather, lawlessness; Matthew 7:23, note), looks as though St. Paul's teaching of "the man of sin" (ὁἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας: Westcott and Hort, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3; cf. 7, 8) might have some basis in the direct teaching of the Lord.
(4) Ephraem Syrus, evidently quoting this passage, but in the form in which, presumably, it existed in the 'Diatessaron,' deduces from it that the earth will be the abode of the glorified saints: "Quod autem dicit: Mandabit domum regni sui ab omni scandalo, intellige de terra et rebus creatis, quas renovabit, ibique justos suos collocabit".
And shall cast them into a (the, Revised Version) furnace of fire: there shall be (the, Revised Version) wailing and gnashing of teeth. Judging by the analogy of Matthew 13:50, even the first clause is not necessarily due to the image of the tares. The furnace of fire was no unknown expression for the punishment of the wicked (cf. also Matthew 8:12, note).
Then shall the righteous. For with these also their character is seen in their lives (Matthew 5:45, note). Shine forth as the sun. An undoubted reference to the substance of Daniel 12:3. Observe that according to the thought of the parable, it is suggested that the likeness consists not only in the brightness of the sun in itself, but also in its being alone in the sky, with nothing round it to prevent its full glory being seen. Then. The chief lesson of the parable; not before, but at, that time. In the kingdom of their Father. In verse 38 they were spoken of as "the sons of the kingdom;" here their Father is expressly mentioned, not "the Son of man" (verses 37, 41). The same reference to his Father rather than to himself is found in Matthew 26:29. Did our Lord wish already to hint that "then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father" (1 Corinthians 15:24)? Had St. Paul's teaching also here a direct connexion with that of our Lord (Matthew 26:41, note)? Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 26:9, note).
The parable of the hidden treasure found. Matthew only. It seems probable, from verse 51, that this and the next two parables were spoken to the disciples in private. They alone would appreciate the value of what they had found; to them alone could the warning be as yet given, that it is not sufficient to have been gathered within the gospel net. Observe in this parable that the treasure was found by chance, and it was near to the man without his knowing it. Again. To be omitted, with the Revised Version and Westcott and Hort. Its absence (contrast verses 45, 47) suggests that this parable is the first of a group, marked as such either by our Lord beginning with it after he had made a pause, or by merely coming first in one of the sources that the evangelist used. The kingdom of heaven (verse 24, note) is like unto treasure hid in a field (cf. Proverbs 2:4). Hid (hidden, Revised Version, κεκρυμμένῳ). It was not there by accident; it had been purposely placed there, hid by its former possessor for safety (Matthew 25:18, Matthew 25:25). Observe that, doubtless unintentionally on the part of the evangelist, the parable forms in this respect the complement to verse 35b. In a field (ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ); in the field (Revised Version); cf. Matthew 1:23, note. The which when a man hath found, he hideth; which a man found, and hid (Revised Version). For fear some one else should take it. Premature assertion would lose the man the treasure. (For a similar truth in spiritual things, cf. Galatians 1:17.) And for joy thereof. So also the margin of the Revised Version; but and in his joy (Revised Version) is better (καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς αὐτοῦ). Goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Goeth … selleth … buyeth. All in the present tense. Our Lord in this parable (contrast verse 46) brings the man vividly before us in each separate stage of his action. For the self-denial that is a necessary of acquiring gospel privileges, comp. Matthew 19:21 (where contrast the young man's grief with the joy spoken of here). Field. Observe that, though the figure is the same as in Matthew 19:24, the thing signified is very different. Here field represents merely that which contains the treasure, perhaps the outward profession of Christianity. All. Westcott and Hort omit, chiefly on the authority of the Vatican manuscript (cf. verse 46, note). And buyeth that field. Into the morality of the action our Lord does not enter; he only illustrates his teaching by an incident that must have happened not un-frequently in a country like Palestine, which had already been the scene of so many wars. But the transaction "was, at least, in entire accordance with Jewish law. If a man had found a treasure in loose coins among the corn, it would certainly be his, if he bought the corn. If he had found it on the ground, or in the soil, it would equally certainly belong to him, if he could claim ownership of the soil, and even if the field were not his own, unless others could prove their right to it. The law went so far as to adjudge to the purchaser of fruits anything found among these fruits" (Edersheim, 'Life,' 1.595).
Matthew 13:45, Matthew 13:46
The parable of the pearl merchant, Matthew only. Observe in this parable that the merchant is accustomed to deal in pearls, and is searching for good ones, when he meets with one worth more than the others he possesses all put together. If the former parable described one who finds the gospel as it were by chance (e.g. the woman of Samaria), this speaks of one who has long been searching for truth (e.g. Andrew and John, the Ethiopian eunuch).
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man. Evidently no poor man, but a rich wholesale dealer (ἔμπορος: cf. Revelation 18:23; not κάπηλος, "a retailer;" cf. 2 Corinthians 2:17). Seeking. According to the usual manner of his life. Goodly pearls. He eared nothing about the inferior kinds or specimens. The man aimed high; he got more than he can have thought possible (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 7:8). Origen has much curious matter about the different kinds of pearls.
Who, when he had found (and having found, Revised Version? εὑρὼν δέ) one pearl of great price; hardly the indefinite article (cf. Matthew 8:19, note). Chrysostom's comment is, Μία γάρ ἐστιν ἡἀλήθεια καὶ οὐ πολυσχισής. Went (ἀπελθών); i.e. some distance, for he might well have to go much further than the man in the preceding parable (ὑπάγει). Went (aorist)… sold (perfect) . bought (aorist). He starts without delay; he sells irrevocably; he purchases at once (cf. Matthew 13:44). And sold all that he had, and bought it. All. Genuine here. It may have been a great deal as worldly wealth is reckoned. Thus Saul of Tarsus acted (Philippians 3:7, Philippians 3:8), and Moses (Hebrews 11:26).
The parable of the dragnet. This parable at once recalls that of the tares, but it will be noticed that there our Lord's aim is to inculcate patience and hopefulness on tile part of his servants when they realize the close proximity of the ungodly even in districts won over to the faith, while here his aim is rather to warn. To be in the kingdom is not enough; some of those now within it may nevertheless be cast out. It thus greatly resembles the parable of the ten virgins; save that in that parable greater stress is laid on personal preparation and continued watchfulness; in this, on personal worth.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net (σαγήνῃ: Matthew 4:18, note), that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind. (For the thought, cf. Matthew 22:10; and for the word, συνάγειν, Matthew 22:30, note.)
Which, when it was full; filled (Revised Version, ἐπληρώθη); i.e. not as a matter of course, but by those that came or were brought in. They drew to shore. The Revised Version reproduces the local touch, they drew up on the beach (Matthew 13:2, note). In the parable those who cast the net also separate the fish, but this identification of two distinct sets of persons (Matthew 13:24, Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:37, Matthew 13:41) is merely part of the machinery of the story (cf. Matthew 13:25). And sat down. How true to life. Perhaps it "intimates the thoughtful care with which the work of separation is performed" (Goebel). And gathered (συνέλεξαν); Matthew 13:30, note. The good. Corresponding to their proper nature also in appearance (τὰ καλά: cf. Matthew 7:17, note). Into vessels, but cast the bad (τὰ δε); Matthew 7:17, Matthew 7:18, notes; Matthew 12:33. Not to be pressed to mean "corrupt, dead fish, in a state of rottenness" (Goebel), for surely fishermen seldom get many of these, but simply the worthless, the unfit for use. This would include the legally unclean. Tristram writes," The greater number of the species taken on the lake are rejected by the fishermen, and I have sat with them on the gunwale while they went through their net, and threw out into the sea those that were too small for the market or were considered unclean". Away (ἔξω ἔβαλον). Compare, for both language and thought, the treatment of the salt that has lost its savour (Matthew 5:13).
So shall it be at (in, Revised Version) the end of the world (cf. Matthew 13:39, Matthew 13:40, notes): the angels shall come forth (Matthew 13:41), and sever. Taking them completely away (ἀφοριοῦσιν). The wicked (τοὺς πονηρούς); Matthew 7:18 and Matthew 6:13, notes. As compared with σαπρός (verse 48), it refers more directly to the moral character. Our Lord has here left the imagery of the parable. From among the just; the righteous (Revised Version); verse 43, note.
And shall cast them, etc. The verse is word for word the same as Matthew 13:42.
Matthew 13:51, Matthew 13:52
The Promise, under the simile of the householder. Matthew only.
Jesus saith unto them. Omitted by the Revised Version as a manifest gloss, perhaps originally due to a lectionary. Have ye understood. Our Lord wishes them to realize the progress that they have already made, that he may give them a fresh promise, and thus summon them to fresh energy. All these things? Probably the immediately preceding parables and others spoken at the same time (cf. Matthew 13:34, note). They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Lord is rightly omitted by the Revised Version. It distracts the attention from the quiet affirmative.
Then said he unto them, Therefore (διὰ τοῦτο); i.e. because you understand, I add this. Every scribe (πᾶς γραμματεύς). The interpretation of the following clause, naturally suggested by this word in itself is that our Lord meant to indicate the possibilities that lay before a Jewish scribe if he were only converted; but for such a reference by our Lord to Jewish scribes there appears no reason in the context. The word must therefore be understood of Christian teachers, who by their study of the Gospel should hold a position in the Christian Church parallel to that of scribes among the Jews. It is possible that our Lord chose the term in order to accustom his disciples to the idea of carrying on the study of Divine things which the scribes were accustomed to make. Even if the disciples were not to follow their methods they might well imitate their devotion Dean Plumptre has an interesting note on our Lord's comparison of his own work and that of the apostles after him, to the work of the scribes of the Jewish schools. In Matthew 23:34 is found a wider application of the term than usual, hardly referring, however, to Christians, but rather to the Jewish scribes in their ideal character. Which is instructed; who hath been made a disciple (Revised Version, μαθητευθείς). Though the correction is right (cf. Matthew 28:19), the word, nevertheless, implies much more than mere admission to the circle of disciples it includes also the thought of instruction having been really received. Unto (to, Revised Version) the kingdom of heaven (τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν, dative of reference; cf. Winer, § 31:4). The kingdom is not regarded as the teacher, but as the school, with reference to which discipleship is entered upon. Is like. In the preceding parables the general principles, etc., of the kingdom of heaven have been compared; here, only certain individuals belonging to it. Unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure (cf. Matthew 2:11, note). The thing signified is his experience and spiritual understanding. Matthew 12:35 has a similar thought, but the treasure there is rather his personality as affecting his life; here, as affecting his intellect. It is curious that the thought of Matthew 12:33, Matthew 12:34 should also resemble our Matthew 12:47-50. Things new and old. The thought of the saying is that as a householder brings out from his stores food recently and long ago acquired (cf. So Matthew 7:13), so a Christian "scribe" brings out (primarily, if not solely, for the use of others) the new truths that he learns, and also old ones that he has long since known. It is thus a promise that the disciples shall (if they use their opportunities rightly) be able to do more than understand Christ's teaching (as they have just claimed to have done); for they shall be able to teach (not merely to learn), and that not only new truths, but also old ones; they shall be able, that is to say, to understand the relation of the old to the new, and to bring out even the old in its true meaning, Hence old is mentioned after new, for it implies greater knowledge and skill. It will be observed that Irenaeus' interpretation (IV. Matthew 9:1) of new and old as the New and Old Testaments is only partially right. With the disciples, it is true, the old would naturally be, in the first place, Old Testament truths, and the new, such truths as they learned from Christ; but these also would, after a few weeks or months, in their turn become old to them, and the fresh truths taught them as their life went on would be ever the new ones. The thought of 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:8 is very similar. Weiss' interpretation is different and even less right. According to him, new represents the truths about the kingdom of God, and old the long known arrangements of nature and human life, which, as the parables show, are drawn up on the same hues. Origen gives a beautiful application of Leviticus 26:10, Leviticus 26:11a.
And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence. The formula marks the end of an excerpt from the discourses. It is, however, to be noticed that the first and last words, καὶ … ἐκεῖθεν, come in Mark 6:1, introducing the parallel passage to our following verses. But in the case of such common words this coincidence is, perhaps, to be considered as accidental. He departed (μετῆρεν). Elsewhere in the New Testament only in Matthew 19:1, where it comes in the same connexion as here.
Unbelief manifested in Jesus' own country, i.e. Nazareth. Parallel passage: Mark 6:1-6. In Luke 4:16-30 we have also an account of a scene at Nazareth; but the occasion was almost certainly a different one from that described here. His account, however, seems to have been modified in form from the better known narrative found in the Framework, and used in Matthew and Mark.
And when he was come into his own country (εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ); i.e. Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). In Luke 4:23 the phrase is used with express contrast to Capernaum. In John 4:44 it is, as it seems, used in a special sense of Judaea, even though it comes in a saying that is almost identical with our verse 57 (see Bishop Westcott). He taught them in their synagogue. His teaching appears to have spread over at least a few days (ἐδίδασκεν). Insomuch that they were astonished (Matthew 7:28, Matthew 7:29), and said, Whence (πόθεν). And so again in verse 56. The sentence might in itself express an earnest desire to know the origin of our Lord. But the fact that they were "offended in him" (verse 57) shows that their language was due. not so much to inquiry as to astonishment, which may in some cases be the first stage of inquiry (Matthew 9:33; Matthew 12:23), or may, as here, be checked from further development. Knowing his family, and despising it, they treated him merely as a curiosity, and never thought of submitting themselves to him. Hath this Man this wisdom. Which they had just heard. And these mighty works? These is not expressed in the Greek, nor necessarily implied. Perhaps he had already performed some of the few miracles that he wrought there (verse 58), or possibly his townsfolk referred to what they had heard of his miracles elsewhere.
Is not this the carpenter's son? In Mark, "the carpenter, the son of Mary," which may possibly be a doctrinal correction, made to avoid representing our Lord as the son of Joseph, but is more probably the earlier form of the narrative (due to immediate and, perhaps, local knowledge), which St. Matthew, or one of those who transmitted the source he used, avoided out of a feeling of reverence. In the Apocryphal Gospels our Lord is not represented as a carpenter himself, but as helping Joseph by miraculously lengthening a piece of wood which Joseph had cut too short. Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren (Matthew 12:46). Probably sons of Joseph by a former wife (see Bishop Lightfoot's classical dissertation in 'Galatians'). James. Afterwards "bishop" of Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19; Acts 15:13), and the author of the Epistle. And Joses; Joseph (Revised Version), which is also probably right in Matthew 27:56. Joses is the Graecised form (see Westcott and Hort, 'Append.'). And Simon, and Judas. Probably the author of the Epistle.
And his sisters. Mentioned only here and in the parallel passage in Mark. Their names are quite unknown. Are they not all. There were several, at any rate not less than three, Matthew alone has all. With us? Mark expressly adds "here;" i.e. in Nazareth. Whence then hath this Man all these things? (verse 54, note).
And they were offended in him (Matthew 5:29, note). Their knowledge of the earthly conditions of his youth proved a stumbling block to their faith. But Jesus said unto them. He accepts the fact, but reminds them that they were under a special temptation thus to reject him. Even in his reproof he will call them to rise above their position. A prophet is not without honour. There will ever be some to honour him. He who speaks forth the mind of God shall not totally fail in any place save one. An encouragement and a warning. Save in his own country (ἐν τῇ πατρίδι). Better omit own, for αὐτοῦ is not genuine here, and the insertion of ἰδίᾳ before πατρίδι, is not supported by enough authority. Mark adds, "and among his own kin." And in his own house. Possibly Jeremiah's experience (Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 12:6) gave rise to this proverb. (On John 4:44, cf. John 4:54, note.)
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Our account is abbreviated from Mark's. Notice there, "He could not do … and he marvelled because of their unbelief." Our Lord was hindered, not by lack of power, but by lack of those moral conditions which would alone have made his miracles really tend to the spiritual advantage of the inhabitants of Nazareth (cf. Matthew 12:38). Because of their unbelief; i.e. complete (ἀπιστία); but in the ease of the failure of the disciples to perform a miracle, only comparative (ὀλιγοπιστία, Matthew 17:20).
The parable of the sower.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. The time. It was the day, St. Matthew says (the order in St. Luke is different), on which our Lord had cast the devil out of the blind and dumb man; the day on which the Pharisees had so fiercely accused him of intercourse with Satan; when his own mother and brethren had feared for his safety, and sought to guide and regulate his work; when, as appears from St. Luke (Luke 11:37), a Pharisee had invited him in no friendly spirit to his house, and there the disagreement had been so great, the antagonism so marked and intense, that the scribes and Pharisees, in their bitter anger, pressed vehemently upon him, catechizing him with wrathful and ensnaring questions, to find, if possible, an opportunity for accusing him. "The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside." After all that fury of opposition he was quiet and collected. In the holy calm of his soul he was able to think of others, able to teach them on that very day of strife. It is a blessed thing to be enabled by the grace of God to turn from the cares and conflicts of life to holy meditation, and to find rest for our troubled soul in communion with God.
2. The audience. Multitudes followed him, excited probably by the startling events of the day. They longed to hear again the great Teacher who had held his ground against those famous rabbis, and had convicted them of hypocrisy and envy and falsehood. Many, doubtless, came from curiosity, some from better reasons. The Lord would lose no opportunity of saving souls. Wearied as he must have been, he went into a boat and sat down to preach to them, the whole multitude standing on the beach of fine white sand that borders the lake.
3. His mode of teaching. He spake in parables; now, it seems, for the first time. The parable was a bright, lively way of presenting truth, best suited for the dull understanding of the listeners. It would excite their interest; it would rivet their attention; it would stimulate them to think. The parables of Christ have sunk deep into the very heart of the Church. Perhaps they have been especially blessed to the simple and the unlearned; but they have been a rich store of spiritual teaching for all Christian people, the most educated as well as the ignorant; they have given us many precious sayings, current now in daily life; they have coloured our language. Another advantage in the use of parables at that time was that the parable would give the Lord's enemies no opportunity for their malicious accusations. They might perceive (as in Matthew 21:45) that he spake of them, or with reference to their doctrine; but they could find no ground for a charge of heresy. We shall meet with another reason for the introduction of this mode of teaching in verses 13-15.
II. THE STORY.
1. The call for attention. "Behold," the Lord said; in St. Mark there is the further preface, "Hearken." It is the Lord who speaks. We must listen; we must give him the attention which he claims. His words are simple, but they are full of spiritual instruction. Meditate on them; pray over them. They will throw a light on the dark mysteries of human life; they will guide us on our way to God.
2. The incidents. They were taken from the commonest details of daily life. The Lord's hearers might see them any day at sowing time. Perhaps they were to be seen at that very moment. It may well be that the Lord, sitting on the raised prow of the boat, could see the corn land descending, as we are told it does, to the water's edge. He saw, it may be, the sower as he went forth to sow. He could see the hard-trodden pathway running through the midst, with no fence to prevent the seed from falling on it. He could see the countless birds hovering over the rich Plain of Gennesaret. He could see the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the cornfield. He could see the large bushes of thorns springing up, as they do now, in the midst of the wheat. "He could see the good rich soil, which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighbourhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn". And he saw in these common sights a happy illustration of the varied effects of that Word of everlasting life which he came to preach. Happy are those who see in earthly things the shadows of heavenly realities, who walk by faith, not by sight.
3. The enforcement. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." The Lord had bespoken attention at the beginning; he enforces that requirement again. He had shadowed forth solemn truths in those simple words; he would have men ponder them in their hearts. But; not all would do so, he knew. All had listened with the outward ear; but to many it was simply a story, a story and nothing more. They would not penetrate into its real meaning; they had not ears to bear. But "who hath ears to hear, let him hear." Let him whose heart God hath opened weigh well these holy words, for they relate to the most momentous issues in our earthly life.
III. THE CONVERSATION WITH THE DISCIPLES.
1. Their question. It was the first time, it seems, that the Lord had taught by parables. His disciples were struck by the change in his mode of teaching. When the multitude had departed and they were alone (Mark 4:10), they asked him, "Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" Men who are in earnest will be inquirers after truth.
2. The Lord's answer.
(1) His immediate disciples were more advanced in religious knowledge than the multitude; they had had the inestimable advantage of his teaching and example. It was given unto them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God—those secrets which are revealed to faith and love. Those secrets are mysteries, unintelligible and incredible to the worldly and the unconverted; hidden from the wise and prudent of the world, but revealed to the babes in Christ. That knowledge is a gift; it is not gained by thought and study. It is given in the gift of the Holy Spirit of God to those who come to Christ in faith. It is not given to all, for not all have the will to come, It is a law in spiritual as in natural things, that "whosoever hath, to him shall be given." It is so in all the various aspects of life—in the pursuit of wealth, honour, learning. Wealth leads to wealth; one step in rank to another; the learning already gained is the means for acquiring more. There must be energy, ability, industry. So in things spiritual there must be a receptivity, an honest and good heart ready to receive the holy seed; even that is God's gift. Every measure of grace given is a means of gaining more. There is a continued progress from strength to strength, nearer and nearer to God. "But whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath;" or, as it is in Luke 8:18, "that which he seemeth to have." The one talent must be taken from him who doth not use it. He seemed to have, but it was only seeming. That is not really ours which is hidden in the earth, which is not used. The means of grace, the opportunities of improvement, what seems to be natural goodness, the very receptivity of grace,—all this must at last be taken away from him who hath not (Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-29).
(2) The fulfilment of prophecy. The prophecy of Isaiah, fulfilled first in the prophet's own experience, was fulfilled again in its ultimate meaning in the result of the preaching of Christ. The multitude heard his words, and yet they heard not, for they did not understand them with the understanding of faith. They saw him, and yet they saw not; for they saw only his outward form, and failed to perceive his Divine character. Their heart was gross and their ears dull, and they had closed their eyes, lest they should see and hear and understand, and should turn unto Christ. It is instructive to notice that in the prophecy the gross heart and the dull ears and the closed eyes are attributed to the will of God. The blindness is a judicial infliction, a penal visitation. But here our Lord himself seems to give a somewhat different turn to the prophet's words. The blindness is self-caused. "Their eyes they have closed." Then these two statements, contradictory as they may seem, must really express only two sides of the same truth. Both are true; we cannot wholly reconcile them; we incline sometimes towards the one, sometimes towards the other. We cannot yet unite them in one point of view. We must be content with our imperfect vision now; we shall see plainly hereafter. In some sense, then, the use of parables was penal. That mode of teaching would conceal the truth from the profane and hard hearted, from those who had wilfully closed their eyes and judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life (Acts 13:46). The parables were φωνᾶντα συνετοῖσι. They conveyed precious lessons of spiritual wisdom to the thoughtful; to careless hearers they were mere ordinary stories. God, in his awful justice, hides the truth at last from those who will not see it. It is a law of his moral government that perseverance in sin should result in hardness of heart and insensibility to the truth. That law is the ordinance of God, the expression of his holy will. The sinner by his obstinacy in sin brings himself under its operation. Hence it is that Holy Scripture tells us sometimes that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, sometimes that Pharaoh hardened it himself.
(3) The blessedness of the disciples. Their eyes were blessed, for they saw the Christ of God; they saw him not only with the outward eye, as others saw, but with the vision of faith. Their ears were blessed, for they heard his holy words. They heard them not only with the outward ear, as scribes and Pharisees heard; but they heard them with the spiritual understanding, with the attentive ear of obedience. Many prophets and righteous men had longed to see and hear the Christ. Abraham had seen his day by faith, Isaiah had seen his life in the prophetic vision. But they had seen only glimpses. They had seen the promises afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them. Now the Christ was come; the kingdom of heaven was in the world. Blessed are those who see by faith the Lord Christ, and hear his voice speaking to them in their hearts, guiding, teaching, comforting.
IV. THE INTERPRETATION.
1. The seed. It is the Word of God. Even the weightier words of men are seeds germinant with a living power; they strike root in the heart, and produce, sometimes noxious weeds and poisonous fruit, sometimes good and fruitful growths. How much more is this true of the living Word of God! The Lord Jesus himself was the Sower. Others, in their measure, have been sowers—his apostles, evangelists, and pastors—but, in the first and highest sense, the Lord himself. He had been sowing now for many months. His holy words had taken root in some faithful hearts; many had heard listlessly without serious thought; some, like the Pharisees, had rejected the Word with scorn and anger. He is the Sower, and in a true and deep sense he himself is the Seed. He soweth the Word, and he is the Word. The spoken word will not live in the hearts of the hearers without his grace, his presence. Christians are born again of incorruptible seed—"by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:23; comp. also 1 John 3:9). That incorruptible seed is the grace of Christ, Christ's presence, Christ himself abiding in the heart by his Spirit. His grace lives in the soul, growing, spreading through the heart, filling it with a new life, transforming him in whom the seed abideth into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. The Word soweth the Word. He is both Sower and Seed, as he is both Priest and Sacrifice.
2. The wayside. Some hear, but do not heed; they do not send their thoughts forth to meet the Word. It falls upon their ears; it does not excite their attention; it does not reach their hearts. And that for two reasons.
(1) Their heart is hard, like the path through the cornfields. The path, trodden by many feet, was hard and dry; the seed could only lie on the surface; it could not sink into the earth. Such is the soil offered by many hearers to the holy Word of God. The Lord sowed all the field over; his followers must do the same. They must not choose one part which seems likely to be fruitful and neglect another which seems unpromising; they must try to reach all who are within the sphere of their influence. But there are, alas! many hearts worn hard by worldliness and selfishness, trodden into the hardness of stone by the constant passage of worldly thoughts and worldly cares. Such cannot receive the Word. It lies outside; it cannot enter. All that is high and holy, all that speaks of Christ and heaven, and of the life of faith and love, is unintelligible to such men. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him."
(2) The fowls came and devoured it. The Word was not received into the heart; the wicked one cometh and taketh it immediately away. Such men have exposed themselves to his devices; for the hard-trodden path was good ground once. The hard heart was once tender, receptive of the truth. "Today if ye will hear his voice," said the psalmist, "harden not your hearts." They who will not listen to the solemn warning expose themselves to the wiles of the devil. His evil spirits, countless like the fowls of the air, carry off the good seed. They fill the cold, unheeding heart with idle thoughts, with selfish and wicked imaginations; and the good seed is lost. "Take heed how ye hear." The good seed is precious exceedingly. Lose it not; to lose the good seed is to lose the very life.
3. The stony places. Here and there in the field the rock rose to the surface; there was a thin covering of earth lying on a sheet of rock. The seed could not sink in; it sprang up quickly because it had no deepness of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched; it had no moisture, no root, and it withered away. The heart was as hard as in the first case; it was utterly selfish, it had no capacity of real self-denial. But it had an appearance of softness. There was an outside of feeling, or what seemed like feeling; there was quickness of apprehension, a lively interest in novelties, a liking for excitement. But there was no depth, no real conviction, no truth of love. Underneath that outside of seeming life there lay the heart unchanged, unconverted, hard and cold as rock. Such persons are easily excited; they receive the Word with joy. But it is only the external beauty of religion, its attractiveness, its poetry, that charms them; they like religious excitement just as they like other forms of excitement. But they have not counted the cost; they have looked only on the fair side of religion, not on its severer aspect. They have never thought deeply of the sharpness of the cross, of their own danger, of the sacrifices which the cross demands. That premature joy is often a bad sign; it often means that there is no sense of sin, no genuine sorrow and contrition for the past. Such a one has no perseverance; he dureth for a while, but only for a while. The novelty wears off; perhaps trouble comes, or sickness and pain. The sun kindles into more vigorous life the deeply rooted plants; it scorches those that have no depth. So it is with affliction; it refines and strengthens the true disciple who is rooted in Christ; it offends the superficial Christian. The religion of excitement and outward form will not help us in sickness and in the hour of death; we want something deeper. The root of the plant is not seen; it is hidden in the earth. So is the true life of the Christian. It is rooted in Christ, hidden with Christ in God. Such a man doth not fall away in time of temptation; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. He does not need novelty and excitement. The old story of the love of Christ is ever new to him. Nothing can separate him from the love of Christ, neither tribulation nor distress; for he dwelleth in Christ, and Christ in him.
4. The thorns. In this case the soil is good; the seed sinks deep; all promises well. But there were thorn roots left in the ground. The thorn bushes had been burnt or cut off, but the roots remained. And so the thorns sprang up with the wheat and absorbed its nourishment, and grew above it, taking away its light and heat. It did not wither, it still grew; there were stalk and leaves and ear; but the ear was empty; there was no fruit. The Lord is thinking of men, not superficial and thoughtless like those described last, but men of character, men of depth and thought and power, men of earnestness and stability. But, alas! there are thorn roots. Such a man might have been a great saint; he becomes only a great merchant, or a great writer, or a great statesman. He never casts aside his profession of religion. He is upright, moral, attentive to the outward ordinances of worship. But he brings no fruit to perfection; and that because of the thorn roots. He had not by diligent self-examination and anxious prayer weeded out the tendencies to worldliness which lie in every heart. They grew up, and acquired daily more height and strength. The soil was good, the thorns grew thick and strong and high. He met with great successes; he prospered in his undertakings; his engagements became more and more numerous. His cares increased. The cares of this world little by little filled his heart, leaving him no time, he supposed, for thought and self-examination and prayer. He grows rich; his riches become a snare; they draw him further from Christ. The love of money, the root of all evil, becomes a tyrant passion; it rules his heart. Or, it may be, the pleasures of this life allure him with their deceitful glitter; and he fritters away in frivolous gaieties the talents that might have raised him high in the service of Christ. All the time he keeps up the respectabilities of a religious profession; his life is decent and fair to look upon. There are leaves, but no fruit. The thorns have choked the wheat. The cares and pleasures of life have filled the heart that should have been given to Christ. He has no time, no thought, no real love, for the things that belong to his peace. He beareth no fruit. The fruit of holy thoughts, holy words, and holy deeds; the blessed fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;—he hath none of these things. He might have been a saint of God; but, alas! he hath gained the world, he hath lost his soul.
5. The good ground. The honest and true heart is the good ground. Such a heart offers no hindrance to the growth of the Divine seed, to the gracious inworking of the Holy Spirit of God. The soil is deep; there are no thorn roots; or rather they have been extirpated by diligent care. The heart is thoughtful and serious; evil passions and covetous desires have been subdued by the grace of God. Such men bring forth fruit with patience. They go on from strength to strength in patient continuance of well doing. They differ from one another in their natural gifts, in their opportunities; also in the degree of their devotion, their self-denial. But all bring forth the fruit of holy living, "some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." "One star differeth from another star in glory;" but all are bright, shining with the reflected glory of the Sun of Righteousness.
6. General reflections.
(1) The honest and good heart is good only because God hath made it so. "There is none righteous, no, not one." The living seed of the Word hath a power which earthly seed hath not. Not only hath it life in itself, but it fertilizes the soil on which it fails; it gives richness and depth to the ground that once was barren. "By the grace of God I am what I am." It is his grace that makes the heart good and honest. That grace is offered to all. He "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." The Sower sowed the precious seed all the field over. The seed has the same life-giving power wherever it falls. The hard heart, the shallow heart, the heart filled full with cares or given up to pleasures, need not always remain what now they are. The holy seed, if received and cherished, will give richness and depth and freedom. The distinctions figured in the parable are not fixed and immutable. Thank God, the wicked man may turn from his wickedness which he hath committed; he may do that which is lawful and right; he may save his soul alive. The conditions of the soil may change. Yet there are differences, the principles of which lie hidden in deepest mystery. Some hearts have a receptivity for God's grace; some have not. Some men come to the light, hating their own darkness, feeling their sinfulness, drawn to the light by its attractive power; others—strange and awful infatuation!—love darkness rather than light, and will not come to the Light which shineth in the world. But we must not despair; we know not what wonders the grace of God may work. The Sower soweth the Word; he sows it everywhere. His servants must do the like, sowing in all soils, even the hardest and most unpromising, in humble faith and hope.
(2) We may notice a progress in the three classes of hearers figured in the parable (see Alford, in loc.). In the first case the seed does not spring up at all; in the second, it springs up, but is withered almost immediately; in the third it is checked, but not withered; it yields stalk and leaves and empty ears, but brings no fruit to perfection. The first understand not; the second receive the Word with joy; the third do something more—they "go forth," they enter on the way that leadeth unto life; but while they are on the way (πορευόμενοι) the Word is choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life. "It has been noticed," says Dean Alford, "that the first is more the fault of careless, inattentive childhood; the second, of ardent, shallow youth; the third, of worldly, self-seeking age." All three cases are sad; the last is the saddest, '"for it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (2 Peter 2:21).
1. Hearken! it is the Lord's voice. His disciples must listen with solemn attention.
2. Blessed are they who hear the Saviour's voice. The saints of the Old Testament had not our privileges; let us value them.
3. Pray for an honest and good heart. God can soften the hard hearted; he can make the frivolous thoughtful; he can turn men from the cares of the world to the holy love of Christ. Pray always; despair not.
The tares; the mustard seed; the leaven.
I. THE STORY OF THE TARES.
1. Resemblance to the first parable. Again we have the field, the sower, and the seed. Again the seed is good. "God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." Again the Sower sowed the good seed all over the field. No part was neglected.
2. The differences.
(1) In this case there is an enemy; he came by night and sowed tares among the wheat. It was an act of pure malice; it could do him no good. But such things are sometimes done, we are told, in Eastern countries now; and, alas! actions of equal malice are done nearer home. In the blade the tares were like the wheat; the mischief was not discovered till the ears began to form.
(2) There are servants also. They tell their lord; they suggest the plucking up of the tares. It is a thing often done; if the tares had been few and scattered, it would have seemed the best course. But the enemy had done his work too thoroughly; the tares were sown thickly all over the field; their roots were intertwined with the wheat roots. The lord bade his servants wait till the harvest; then the field should be reaped as it was; the tares should be burned, the wheat gathered into the garner.
II. THE GRAIN OF MUSTARD SEED.
1. The parable. The mustard seed is small. It is sown in the field; it becomes greater than the herbs, a tree; the birds of the air lodge in its branches.
2. Its meaning. Such was the kingdom of heaven. It was small in its beginning; only a little Child was born in Bethlehem of Judaea. At first its growth seemed very slow. The King was a Man of sorrows; he died the cruel death of the cross. Twelve men were sent forth to fight the battle of the kingdom, to confront the whole power of heathendom; they were few; they were, for the most part, of no reputation, unknown and unregarded. But as the little seed had a vital power inherent in it, so was it with the kingdom of heaven. It spread itself with a strange expansive force, till it filled all the greatest kingdoms of the earth, and men flocked from all sides to take refuge in its shelter.
3. Its encouragement. It may be, as Chrysostom thinks, that this and the following parable were intended to encourage the disciples. There was something very saddening in the lessons of the first two parables. Three parts of the good seed were lost; the remainder was mingled with tares. It seemed a melancholy prospect. But now there is a word of comfort. The seed will grow; it will become a tree, spreading its branches far; it will offer refuge to the wandering and the homeless. Let us take courage. The Church hath a vital expansive force, so long as it abides in Christ who is the Life. It will live on; it will spread. The wandering children will return; the restless, who have been driven about by every blast of vain doctrine, will find a home at last in the Church of Christ.
III. THE LEAVES.
1. The difference between this parable and the last. The seed has a principle of life in it. Plant it, and under favourable circumstances it will grow. You cannot watch the actual process of growth from minute to minute; but day after day you see the results. The plant springs up, rises into the air, expands on all sides. So doth the Church of Christ. The leaven works secretly, silently, invisibly; it is hidden in the meal; little by little it spreads its assimilating influence through the whole mass. It figures the silent, unseen spreading of the gospel
2. The silent growth of Christianity. The gospel was hidden in the world, in its three ancient divisions, among the descendants of the three sons of Noah. Its growth at first was silent; few marked it, as by slow degrees it spread its influence through the masses of heathenism. Heathen contemporary writers seem for the most part ignorant of its existence; but in silence and in secret it worked on, softening, refining, purifying.
3. The unseen growth of personal religion. But the three measures of meal may well be understood of the three constituent parts of our human nature—body, soul, and spirit. The leaven which is to regenerate society must first regenerate its individual elements. The germ of spiritual life is hidden in the soul; it is unseen, hid with Christ in God. But it is quick and powerful. It works under the surface with a strange penetrating energy. It diffuses its influence through the heart, which without it would be dull and heavy, indifferent to religion. Little by little it expels the counteracting agencies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It spreads itself more and more through the whole life, assimilating with its secret influence every form of human activity. It works, and will work, till every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; till we have learned, whatever we do, to do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus.
IV. REMARKS OF THE EVANGELIST.
1. The Lord's method. On that occasion he taught the multitude only by parables. He spoke to the people as they were able to hear it (Mark 4:33). He reserved the explanation for his disciples. Religious teaching should be adapted to the circumstances of the hearers. Simple teaching is best suited for simple minds. The teacher should imitate the Lord's example, and teach in singleness of heart, seeking only the good of souls.
2. The reason: the fulfilment of prophecy. There were other reasons, mentioned already, for the adoption of this mode of teaching. But the fulfilment of prophecy always underlay all the Lord's acts and words. The whole Scriptures of the ancient covenant spake of him and the new covenant which he was to inaugurate. Thus the seventy-eighth psalm prefigured his use of parables. That psalm represents the history of God's ancient people as a parable of spiritual things. There was a spiritual meaning in all its details. "These things were our examples (τύποι)" (1 Corinthians 10:6, 1 Corinthians 10:11); they were types of the vicissitudes of the spiritual life, written for our admonition; a parable of God's dealings with the individual soul. Let us learn to look on the Old Testament in this light, to understand its religious use.
V. EXPLANATION OF THE PARABLE OF THE TARES.
1. The petition of the disciples. The multitude had departed; the Lord and his disciples had returned to the house; they were alone. The disciples sought further instruction. So it is now. The multitude depart; the true disciples follow the Lord whithersoever he goeth. They are near him in the crowded church, sometimes even nearer in the silent hour of solitary prayer. Then they sit at his feet like Mary, seeking to learn ever deeper lessons of faith and love. He hears their prayer; he answers in his grace and mercy.
2. The answer. The Lord explained the parable to his disciples, as he will explain to us the meaning of our trials and perplexities, if we come to him in faith and prayer.
(1) The Sower is the Son of man. God the Son, come in the flesh, and henceforth Son of man as well as Son of God.
(2) The field is the world. But it is a parable of the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:24, Matthew 13:41). The field is God's. He sowed the good seed in it. The world, so far as it is sown over with the good seed, becomes the Church. "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
(3) The seed. In the parable of the sower, the seed is the Word of God; here it is the children of the kingdom. But the seed is identical with the plant. The living seed pervades and takes into itself the whole human nature. The principle of spiritual life which was sown by the Divine Sower becomes the full-grown plant, the Christian living in the faith of the Son of God. "Not I, but Christ liveth in me." This identification is seen even in the parable of the sower. In Matthew 13:20, Matthew 13:22, Matthew 13:23 the true translation is not "he that received seed," but "he that was sown."
(4) The enemy. "God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." It was not he who sowed the tares; it was the devil. This parable brings out into clear light the personality of Satan, his malice, his intense hostility to Christ. Dark, perplexing questions rise in our minds. Our very children ask us Why did not God destroy the devil? We know that there is "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." He shall be cast into the bottomless pit, and deceive men no more. But in the mean time it seems to be necessary, for deep inscrutable reasons, that his malice should be counteracted, not by a direct act of almighty power, but by moral and spiritual forces. Such forces radiate into the Church from the cradle of Bethlehem, from the cross of Calvary. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." The enemy sowed the tares; they are the children of the wicked one. The evil seed has, through their own sinful compliance, so spread through their nature that it has made them like their father the devil, and the lusts of their father they do. It is an awful thought; but we know that though, in the natural world, tares can never become wheat, yet, in the spiritual world, they who were once under the power of darkness may by the grace of God be translated into the kingdom of his dear Son. A parable cannot, from the nature of the case, correspond in all its minute details with the eternal verities which it is intended to shadow forth.
(5) The tares are to remain till the end of the world. The servants were impatient. Christians have been so often. "Whence then hath it tares?" is a question which has been asked in every age of the Church—which we often ask ourselves. The servants would have anticipated the office of the heavenly reapers; but the Lord forbade. The time was not come. They had not the knowledge. They would do more harm than good, wheat and tares were so inextricably mingled. Christians must wait for the Lord in patience. In the visible Church the evil will be ever mingled with the good. Earthly power must not be used to exterminate religious errors. The tares must grow with the wheat, for such is the Lord's command. It is a saddening thought that the Church, the bride of Christ, which ought to be "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing," should be so rent asunder by schism and heresies, so disfigured with the evil lives of many baptized men. But the Lord warned us that it would be so. We must live in patient hope, purifying ourselves even as he is pure, and seeking by his gracious help to influence for good all who come within our reach.
(6) For the harvest cometh. It is the end of the world. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels." He seemed a man among men, as he said the words; but he was in truth the high Son of God. None other could dare to describe the angels of judgment as his messengers. The reapers are the angels; they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity. They were in the outward kingdom, the visible Church; they have no part in the kingdom of glory. The Lord hath prepared no place there for them. There remaineth only the furnace of fire, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Most awful words!
(7) The glory of the blessed. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." They were in his earthly kingdom; they had called him "Our Father." Now they are with him forever in the everlasting glory. They shall shine forth. The glory which they had before, which Christ had given them (John 17:22), but which had been hidden in that inner life of holiness which is hid with Christ in God, shall be manifested then. They shall shine as the sun. As the raiment of the Lord shone on the Mount of the Transfiguration, so shall shine the glorified bodies of the blessed in the day when he shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be like unto the body of his glory. Listen, the Lord says; his words are of momentous importance. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
1. The malice of the devil is hellish. You have renounced him and all his works; hate him and them with energetic hatred.
2. The mustard seed will grow; the leaven will diffuse its influence. He who hath begun the good work will fulfil it. Be of good cheer; only believe.
3. Think of the great harvest. "Set your affection on things above."
The parables addressed to the disciples.
I. THE HIDDEN TREASURE.
1. The story. Treasures were often hidden in fact, still more often in fiction. A man walked through the field; he lighted suddenly on the treasure. He hid it, again. It was his, probably, by right of finding. But in this parable, as in others, not every detail is to be pressed. Earthly stories cannot exactly express every feature of spiritual truth. One parable supplies the omissions of another; taken together, they fill up the picture. His joy was great. He sold all that he had to buy the field, that the treasure might be clearly his beyond doubt and question.
2. The meaning. The field may be the visible Church. It may be the Holy Scriptures. The finder was in the Church. He knew his Bible well, but he had not yet found Christ. The ordinances of the Church were but forms to him; the Bible was like other books. Suddenly, by the grace of God, like St. Paul or St. Augustine, he lights upon the hidden treasure. He recognizes its surpassing value. A great joy fills his heart, a joy deep and entrancing, a glimpse of the gladness of heaven. But there is something awful in that joy, something too sacred for words. At first he dares not speak of it; not through jealousy of others—God forbid!—but through fear lest he should lose it. Loud talk, boasting, spiritual pride, might rob him of the treasure. In deep humility he hides it in his heart. But he sells all that he has. He buys the field. Now the Church is to him the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth; now the Bible is precious exceedingly; for the treasure in it is now his. Like St. Paul, he has counted all things else as dross, as very dung, that he might find Christ. He has found him, and in him he has found a treasure precious beyond what words can tell; a hidden treasure, which none can know save those who, like the happy finder, part with all other treasures to make that one holiest treasure theirs forever.
II. THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE.
1. The merchant. He was anearnest seeker. His life was not aimless. He knew that there is a meaning and a purpose in this our earthly life. It is not to be wasted; it must be used in real work. He was not content to live on from day to day enjoying the passing hour without thought of the future. He was no listless loiterer, but a seeker, seeking ever with steadfast perseverance after the true end of human life. He was thoughtful, earnest, single-hearted; such a seeker sooner or later findeth.
2. The pearl. There were many. But the merchant sought only for goodly pearls. He was a man of high aims from the beginning. Pleasure was not the pearl, nor earthly rank or wealth. But wisdom perhaps attracted him, or the desire of doing good, or the love of wife or child. These were goodly in their degree; but at last, in his search, he found one pearl, in comparison of which all that had seemed most lovely became pale and poor. At once he went, and with calm resolve sold all that he had to make that pearl his own. That pearl is the Lord Christ himself, the one thing needful, the good part which Mary chose, while Martha was careful and troubled about many things. That pearl is beyond comparison of all things goodly the goodliest and the best. He who would buy that pearl must sell all that he has. He must learn to love the Lord his God with all his heart, and to subordinate all other loves to that one holiest love. He must hush into calm the tumult of earthly desires, that the one strong desire of Christ, the Desire of all nations, may fill his heart. To such earnest seekers the pearl of great price is given. Again the parable is not exact in its details; no earthly story can be. Eternal life, which is the knowledge of Christ, is the gift of God. It is a reward altogether overpassing and throwing into shade our utmost efforts. Poor and helpless as we are, we could not buy it, were it not that he giveth the unspeakable Gift, the gift of Christ, without money and without price, to those who seek in persevering prayer and earnest faith. But he is pleased, in his Divine condescension, to speak of us as buying the pearl. He accepts our poor unworthy love, and gives us in return that priceless Gift to be our own.
III. THE NET.
1. Cast into the sea. It was a draw-net, large and long. It gathered of every kind till it was full. The sea is the world; the net is the Church. The net is drawn through the sea till it is filled with fishes. The Church spreads through the world till the number of the elect is accomplished. Till that time the net is in the sea, the Church is in the world. There are many not yet gathered into the net. The sea is wide and large; the net has not yet swept through it. The gospel has not yet been preached over all the earth. There are many dark places where the fishers of men have not yet drawn the net. All waters must be tried. The glad tidings of the kingdom of heaven must be carried everywhere throughout the world. Then shall the end come. The net gathered of every kind. In the Church are good and bad. Men like Judas, or Demas, or Hymenaeus, or Diotrephes, as well as men like St. Peter, or St. John, or St. Paul. Men, too, of all nations, of all conditions of life, manifold in character and circumstances.
2. Drawn to the shore. They sit down, they gather the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. It is a figure of the judgment. Again we hear of the angels, the ministers of God's most awful justice; again we hear of the furnace of fire, of the wailing and gnashing of teeth—words which contain a meaning most fearful, most tremendous.
IV. THE TREASURES OF THE HOUSEHOLDER.
1. The Lord's question. He was teaching his disciples now in private. He asks them, "Have ye understood all these things?" They who are to teach must learn themselves. The true teaching comes only from Christ. The deepest spiritual truths can be learned only by direct intercourse with the Lord. It is well if we can answer, "Yea, Lord." He accepts our imperfect knowledge; imperfect it must be. If only it is real, as far as it goes, it will be the beginning of deeper, holier wisdom.
2. The comparison. The careful householder brings out of his store things new and old; so doth the instructed scribe. The teacher must be a disciple; he must have been instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; he must himself be in the kingdom; he must have the kingdom in his own heart. Then he will possess a rich store of true wisdom; and out of that store he will bring things new and old; the old truths, unchanging, ever the same, but in the new light of living, personal experience; old and yet always new; the truths that drew the first disciples to the Lord; the truths that flash with a new light into the heart of each awakened Christian now when first he turns from darkness unto light, from Satan unto God.
V. THE SEVEN PARABLES.
1. "Jesus had finished these parables." The words of the evangelist seem to regard the seven parables as a whole, a cycle of parabolic teaching. The number seven is the number of perfection. The parables fill up and supplement one another. No one human illustration can give an adequate view of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The seven taken together give a complete picture. In the first we see the various characters of men, receptive or unreceptive of the truth. In the second, the agency of the tempter. In the third, the gradual spreading of the kingdom through the world. In the fourth, its inner working in the individual heart. In the fifth it is found by one who sought not for it, in the sixth after diligent inquiry and anxious search; in both we see its exceeding preciousness, a preciousness which makes the Christian willing to sacrifice all for the kingdom's sake. In the seventh we see the consummation of all things, the final separation, the condemnation of the wicked, the glory of the righteous.
2. The historical explanation. We may see a brief Church history in these seven parables. We begin with the first sowing of the Word by the great Sower; then comes the growth of heresy and sin within the Church; then the gradual progress of the Church, spreading itself on every side, silently leavening the framework of society; then we read the history of this or that great saint of God, one lighting suddenly on the hid treasure, another seeking and finding; and at last the judgment. Let us learn of the great Teacher how to read the history of the world, looking back to the first sowing, looking onwards to the coming judgment, diligently seeking for the hid treasure, the pearl of great price.
1. The treasure is hidden; oh that we may find it! The pearl is of great price; let us count the cost and buy it.
2. The Lord is at hand; prepare to meet him.
3. The true disciple ever learns, for Christ his Teacher is ever with him.
The Lord's preaching at Nazareth.
I. His visit.
1. It was his own country. He had lived there nearly thirty years, from infancy to manhood. It was but a small place; every one knew him; some had been his schoolfellows, some friends of the family, some had bought their ploughs and yokes at the carpenter's shop. He had been absent a long time. During that absence the unknown village carpenter had become the most conspicuous figure in the Holy Land. The Nazarenes had wondered as they heard of his mighty works and the strange influence of his teaching. They must have felt some natural pride in the eminence of their countryman. But their admiration was mingled with unworthy feelings—jealousy, envy. Holiness is not always popular. Ungodly men feel it as a rebuke to themselves; they hate it.
2. His teaching there. He went to the synagogue, as he was wont. The Lord always attended public worship. In this, as in all things, he is our Example. It was known that he would be there. The Nazarenes flocked to hear him. Their motives were different, but all were drawn by eager desire to listen to the great Preacher. We cannot tell for certain whether this visit, recorded also in St. Mark, is to be regarded as identical with that described in Luke 4:16-30. We only know that the congregation was filled with astonishment now, as they were on that occasion. The Lord's words were words of deep and holy wisdom. "Never man spake as this Man." They had been told of his wisdom; now they heard it themselves, and they wondered greatly.
II. THE FEELINGS OF THE NAZARENES.
1. Their talk. They whispered together about the Lord's humble origin.
(1) He was the Son, they thought, of the carpenter Joseph, whom they remembered so well—the good man now gone to his reward; the son of David, but yet the village carpenter. The Nazarenes forgot his royal descent; they forgot the higher nobility of goodness which had distinguished him; they thought only of his humble occupation. He was a carpenter, they said, only a carpenter; and this Preacher who spoke with such authority was, they supposed, the carpenter's Son. Mary was his mother. They knew her well; she lived long among them.
(2) There were brothers, too, and sisters; children, probably, of Joseph by a former marriage, brought up with the Lord, older than he—which, perhaps, may serve to explain their assumption of authority. It is a thought of deep interest that the blessed Lord. had lived with brothers and sisters in family life. He felt its joys and its troubles; the sweetness of affection, and at times, perhaps, the vexations of jarring wills; for brothers and sisters were not, as he was, sinless anti without spot. His brethren, we know, did not yet believe in him. We wonder how the sisters regarded his exalted holiness, his perfect purity, his tender love. Holy Scripture has hidden from us the details of our Lord's domestic life; but it is sweet to think that he lived as we have lived, and to regard him as our Example in all the varied relations of family life.
2. Their rejection of the Lord. They were offended in him. Their previous knowledge of him, of his early life among them, of his occupation, of his family, was a stumbling block to them. They could not get over it. They stumbled and fell. Yet his life had been an example of unparalleled innocence and holiness. They had loved him in his holy childhood, when he increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. But they could not receive "the carpenter's Son" as the Messiah. Let us learn not to despise the poor, the lowly; let no Christian dare to look down on honest trade. The Lord Christ was once a carpenter. The humble in earthly rank may be very high in holiness, first in the kingdom of heaven.
III. HIS DEPARTURE.
1. His view of their conduct. A prophet is not without honour. A prophet, a true man who speaks for God, who speaks in simplicity and earnestness, out of the abundance of his heart,—such a man is not without honor. He is honoured of God, and, sooner or later, he is honoured of men; not always in his lifetime, but at last, when death raises him above the petty jealousies of life, men will own that there hath been a prophet among them, and will render him that meed of honour which perhaps in his lifetime they kept from him. But he is not always, not commonly, honoured in his own country and in his own house. Men do not envy those very high above them in rank and wealth, or those far removed from them in any way. They envy most those who are nearest to them in place, in time, in circumstances. It is so now; it was so in our Saviour's case. His fellow countrymen held him not in honour. His brethren did not believe in him. If we suffer from the envy of others, let us think of him. He was despised and rejected. We may well be content if the disciple is as his Master. And oh, let us drive envy out of own hearts. It kept the Nazarenes from Christ; it keeps men from Christ now. The envious cannot know him who is love.
2. His presence was not blessed to them. "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." He was there, the Saviour, the mighty Son of God, but his presence brought little blessing. It was not the mere bodily presence of the Christ that saved and blessed. "He could there do no mighty work," says St. Mark, "save that he laid. his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them." The Lord's miracles of healing were not mere displays of power; they had a spiritual meaning. Faith was required in the recipient. He does not exercise his power arbitrarily; it is directed by his wise and holy will. A few had faith, those few he healed. The unbelieving derived no benefit from his visit. How earnestly we should pray, "Lord, increase our faith"!
1. Never despise men because of their humble origin; it is a sinful thing in the Christian, whose King was called "the carpenter's Son."
2. Honour God's saints; to honour them is to honour God, whose servants they are.
3. Flee from envy; it kills the soul.
4. Be very careful to use all the means of grace! do not drive Christ away by unbelief and hardness of heart.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The parable of the soils.
Our Lord's popularity is now at its height. Crowds throng him wherever he goes. But he is not dazzled by the blaze of public favour. On the contrary, be sees how unsubstantial and delusive it is. Multitudes follow him for the charm of his words and the fame of his miracles; but of these large numbers do not truly accept his message and profit by it. It is necessary that he should sift his disciples, separating those who are in earnest from the superficial and indifferent. The method employed with this object in view is parabolic teaching (see Matthew 13:13-16). By means of such teaching those who are only amused at a tale will not see the truth which they do not care to have, while those who are awake and alive to the gospel of the kingdom will be prompted to think and inquire, and to get a better hold of Christ's teaching. It is natural that the transition to this more veiled method of instruction should be made in a parable that illustrates the different classes of hearers.
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE PARABLE. A great principle underlies the whole parable, and is revealed in all its parts, viz.: That the success or failure of preaching is partly dependent on the character and conduct of the hearers. In the present instance the Sower is Christ—the greatest of preachers; and the seed is the word of his gospel—the best of all teaching. Yet there are no uniformly good results, but a variety of issues, from utter failure to a bountiful harvest. Then the preacher is not always to blame if his preaching is barren, and the doctrine is not to be accounted false simply because in some cases it does not produce good effects. The hearer is responsible. He has freewill, and he may reject the highest truths of the greatest teacher, or he may receive them with different degrees of profit.
II. THE BAD SOULS. These represent three characters.
1. Dull indifference. Instead of being receptive soil for the seed of truth, the heart of the worldly man is hard. The hardening is the result of the traffic of innumerable earthly interests. Troops of these secular concerns trample the heart into a highway. They may be harmless in themselves and even necessary, but the full surrender to them is ruinous to the spiritual life. The heart that is given up to the world is a prey to the ravages of Satan.
2. Sentimental fervour. The rocky ground is hot, and it provokes quick growth. Sentimental people show a passion of devotion. But they have no reservoirs of strength. When circumstances are adverse they are weak and they yield.
3. Stifling worldliness. In the third case more progress is made, and yet there is no harvest. Here we have not the gross worldliness which produces indifference from the beginning as in the first case. There is a competition between the spiritual and the worldly, and the latter wins by reason of its rank vigour.
III. THE BAD SOILS.
1. A common fruitfulness. All the good soils bring forth fruit. This is the one result looked for. If it appears, we have the joy of harvest. Christ's preaching was. not a failure, though many, failed to profit by it. If no good comes from preaching, the fault may not lie wholly with the hearers. The gospel of Christ brings in a rich harvest of souls.
2. A variation of productiveness. All who profit by the truth of the gospel do not profit equally. It is not enough that some fruit is obtained. The aim should be for an abundant return. The seed is capable of enormous productiveness; there is no limit to the possibilities of Divine grace if only we will let them be realized in our own lives.—W.F.A.
Christians enjoying what prophets desired.
They who truly receive the teaching of Christ and profit by it enjoy privileges which prophets and righteous men longed for in vain.
I. THE PROPHETS' DESIRES. The saints and seers of antiquity were not satisfied with the revelations made to them and the favour bestowed upon them. They looked forward to a glorious future when fuller light should appear, and when greater works of heavenly power should be accomplished. Let us consider the objects of the prophets' desire, what things they were the prophets longed to see and hear.
1. The vision of God. Job yearned to see God (Job 23:3). The older revelations of God awakened a hunger for a nearer vision. The best men of antiquity desired above all things to "see the King in his beauty."
2. The redemption of man. Some were satisfied with the course of events and the condition of the world. But two classes of men were profoundly dissatisfied, viz.
(1) prophets, who saw the truth of God and perceived the falseness of the world, its direct antagonism to the Divine will; and
(2) righteous men, who had a keen conscience, and were horrified at the sin and guilt of mankind. Both of these saw that only ruin faced man when left to himself; both cried out for a Divine redemption.
3. The advent of the kingdom of heaven. This was the grand topic of Messianic prophecy; it was the supreme object of the patient hope of devout people, such as Anna and Simeon at the time of our Lord's infancy (Luke 2:25-38). Such a hope went beyond deliverance and redemption; it pointed to a golden age in the future, excelling the best days of the past.
II. THE CHRISTIANS' PRIVILEGES. Christ congratulates his true disciples on their happy estate. Let us consider what privileges this brings.
1. The presence of Christ.
(1) He is the Revelation of God, longed for by prophets, but never seen in Old Testament times. Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us;" and Jesus replied, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:8, John 14:9).
(2) He, too, brings redemption, for he is the Redeemer, and he comes to save the world by the sacrifice of himself.
(3) He establishes the kingdom of heaven, for he is its King. When Christ has come to us the kingdom is among us. But many saw Christ "after the flesh," in his bodily presence, and yet discerned none of these things. We do not see him walking in our streets or sitting at our table. Yet when we see him with the eyes of the heart, and perceive his Divine and redeeming presence, ours also is the vision longed for by the good and wise in ancient time.
2. The Word of life. This is what Christians hear. It is the good news of salvation in Christ. But it is also a living Word that awakens dead souls and quickens the Divine life within men. All who are within reach of the gospel may be familiar with the sound of this Word. But, alas! how many never perceive that to them has come a privilege greatly desired by prophets and righteous men of old. This Word must be heard in the heart to be appreciated. Then its gracious tones awaken responses of faith and love, because then it speaks in deep harmonies as the very music of heaven.—W.F.A.
The parable of the soils showed the various results of sowing the same good seed according to the various conditions of soil on which the seed tell; now this parable of the tares disregards differences of soil, but treats of different kinds of seed sown by different hands. Thus it introduces us to something worse than the failure of good work, to the existence of evil influences in the world.
I. CHRISTIAN PEOPLE ARE THE GROWTH OF SEED SOWN BY CHRIST IN THE WORLD. In his explanation of the parable our Lord tells us three things about this branch of his teaching.
1. Christ is the Sower. All good spiritual life springs from him.
2. The field is the world. Christ is no narrow ecclesiastic confining his interests to the Church. Nor has he the parochial mind. His gospel is for the whole world. Christians are to be "the salt of the earth."
3. The good seed represents the "sons of the kingdom," i.e. Christian people. Christ is not satisfied with teaching ideas; he aims at growing souls. His harvest is not of thoughts and doctrines, but of men and women.
II. BAD MEN ARE LIKE TARES SOWN BY SATAN.
1. Evil influences are at work is the world. There is worse than the negative failure of good seed. Weeds spring up; nettles and poison plants take their place in the garden of nature. The world as we know it has been sown with the seed of sin. Here is positive evil, alive and propagating further evil.
2. These evil influences are due to the great enemy of souls. A malignant power, the enemy of Christ and of mankind, is busy sowing evil.
3. The fruit of these evil influences is seen in the lives of bad people, it is not in false doctrine but in wicked living that the greatest mischief is manifested. The aim of Satan is to grow a crop of noxious characters.
III. THE SERVANTS OF CHRIST ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE FORCIBLE MEANS FOR THE EXTINCTION OF EVIL LIVES. This parable has often been abused by being applied to Church discipline, a subject with which it has nothing to do, seeing that "the field is the world"—not the Church. What it excludes is the violent uprooting of bad men from the world. If it is to be pressed to a literal application, it may be thought to forbid capital punishment. But as it deals with religious relations it is rather aimed at persecution; e.g. it is absolutely opposed to such action as that of the Spanish Inquisition. The violation of its precepts has vindicated our Lord's warning. The wheat has been rooted up with the tares. Too often persecution selected the very sons of the kingdom for its victims. This may be done honestly, by a horrible blunder; we cannot well distinguish between the blades of wheat and those of the plant that simulates it. At present it is premature to judge men finally, for characters are not yet developed.
IV. THERE WILL BE A FINAL JUDGMENT AND DOOM OF THE WICKED.
1. This will happen at the end of all, when characters have fully ripened, when the harvest is come. Even now the harvest is anticipated by the reaper Death, and after death there is the great judgment. The liberty of the present is no guarantee against the great doom of the future. Evil cannot flourish forever.
2. This will be in the hands of God. It is not for man to use violent measures against his fellow man; but God and his angels will search into all characters, and the issue must be fearful for those who have permitted themselves to become as the rank growth of Satan.—W.F.A.
The mustard seed and the leaven.
These parables illustrate the worldwide growth and influence of the kingdom of heaven. It might not be wonderful that a peasant living in remote Syrian highlands should have dared to predict such a vast future for his work if he were only speaking in the enthusiasm of hope; but it is the wonder of the ages that the Galilaean predictions have been verified by history, which has proved that the Speaker uttered true words and was able to realize what he foretold. Let us consider the prophecy in the light of its fulfilment. The two parables set forth two different phases of the extension of the kingdom.
I. THE VISIBLE GROWTH OF THE KINGDOM ITSELF.
1. It appears in a small beginning. Christ gathered about him a little group of fishermen; there was the kingdom, but as yet a minute seed. How many of the best movements spring from small beginnings—the river from the brook, the man from the child, the city from the hamlet, the empire from the city! History forbids us to despise the day of small things. It is better to begin obscurely and grow, than to commence with a flourish of trumpets, raising expectations which we may not be able to fulfil.
2. It contains a centre of life. The pebble will not grow. Multitudes of small ventures are destined to remain small or to fade away altogether. It is only the vital seed that grows. There is a life-principle in Christianity. Christ himself is in it.
3. It has a great development. The mustard seed becomes a tree. The little group of disciples becomes a world wide Church. Christ has large aims, and he accomplishes them. He has not yet seen the full growth of the seed he sowed. Christianity is still spreading—spreading in heathen lands as in no previous age; it has in it vitality enough to fill the whole world.
4. Its growth is beneficial to the world. The kingdom of heaven is not a deadly Upas tree; it does not destroy all other Jives in fostering its own life. The mustard tree furnishes night shelter for the birds; the kingdom of heaven is a great refuge for helpless, benighted souls.
II. THE INVISIBLE INFLUENCE OF THE KINGDOM. It works like leaven in a mass of meal.
1. It spreads through the world. The gospel has a marvellous penetrating influence. Early Christianity extended itself without any organized method of propagation, reaching all classes of society and touching remotest regions. There is a happy infection in Christian truth. A saintly example is healthily contagious.
2. It influences the world. The whole mass of meal is leavened. Christ gives us a leaven of society, not merely a new life to be in society and to spread itself, growing and multiplying, but a transforming and uplifting influence. Left to itself the world is dead. The gospel comes as a ferment, breaking up the old lethargy and rousing fresh activity. It affects every part of life, and whatever it affects it assimilates to itself. We are not to think of the kingdom of heaven standing aloof from the world, which is to be let lie in its own deadness. It is sent into the world that it may benefit the world. Plunged into the midst of society, it works for the benefit of society. Commerce, science, literature, art, politics, social order, and domestic life are all sought out by the Christian spirit, and as they come under its influence they are purified and quickened. Seeing that the influences of the gospel are destined to be so widespread and manifold, it becomes us not to cramp them by any narrowness of our own, but rather to further them with courageous hopefulness.—W.F.A.
Matthew 13:45, Matthew 13:46
The pearl of great price.
Many people regard religion as a matter of grave duty which it behoves them to attend to, but to which they turn reluctantly and with weariness, because they never hope to see in it any attractions or to make it an object of eager desire. To such people our Lord's words may be a new revelation. In his teaching the kingdom of heaven is supremely desirable.
I. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THE PEARL. Our Lord is not speaking of the future heavenly reward, which most men vaguely imagine to be very valuable. What he means by the kingdom of heaven is a present possession—the rule of God in the hearts of his people. We have to see that this is an exceedingly good thing, here and now. It is good on its own account, not for the sake of its promises of the future, not because of any further advantages which may be got out of it. Religion is meant to he an end in itself; it is abused and degraded when it is treated as a means to some other end. To gain favour with the Church, to win a reputation for piety, even to court customers in business, may be the ends of some people in their religion. But it has to be seen that such low aims utterly obscure the true glory of the gospel. The soul's darkness and misery arise from enmity against God. To be reconciled to him is its sunrise and the advent of its peace. There is no gladness on earth so pure and deep and strong as that which springs from fellowship with God enjoyed through Jesus Christ. He who has this has the pearl of great price.
II. THE MERCHANT'S QUEST. We see a merchant seeking pearls. This point distinguishes our parable from the previous one, in which a man comes unexpectedly on a hidden treasure. That parable shows how God may be found even by those who do not seek him. Now we have the reward of one who does seek brought before us. Perhaps the merchant has travelled far, and sought carefully before he has lighted on his great prize. There are men and women who earnestly set themselves to seek for what is truly worth having in life—they crave for knowledge, hunger for righteousness, thirst for God. They may be long before they are satisfied, but if they will persevere they will not be disappointed in the end. The pearl is for them.
III. THE COST OF ACQUISITION.
1. The pearl is found. This is the first step. But the pearl is not yet owned. We may see the kingdom afar off, we may be close to its borders, yet we may not have possession of it. We need to know the gospel, to see the kingdom. Then we must go further if we would make the prize our own.
2. The pearl is costly. The merchant must sell all he has acquired on his journey to buy this one pearl. Now, we know that the gospel is God's free gift; it was costly, for it cost the life of Christ on the cross; therefore it is not a cheap gospel; yet it is not bought by us, but by Christ. These facts, however do not exclude the necessity of sacrifice on our part. We can pay nothing to God. But we must renounce sin and self, and the idolizing and trusting in all things but God.
3. The price is gladly paid. The merchant is a connoisseur, and he at once recognizes the value of his great discovery. He feels that he has made a good bargain, though he has sold all to buy the pearl of great price. He who gives up all for Christ requires no commiseration, but rather congratulation, because his gain is great.—W.F.A.
This parable may be compared with the parables of the soils and the tares. All three show different results following the teaching of Christ according to the characters of those whom he teaches. The parable of the soils draws attention to the varying degrees of success or failure dependent on the condition of the hearers; the tares illustrate evil influences side by side with the work of Christ; the dragnet disregards these two causes of failure, and deals only with results—it carries us on to the final judgment. Nevertheless, we should bear the lessons of the earlier parables in mind, in order to avoid drawing conclusions of fatalism and injustice from this one.
I. THE GOSPEL NET. Our Lord compares his method to the casting of a great net and the drawing it through the waters.
1. Christ seeks men. He spoke to fishers, who knew the sea and its commerce, and he compared his work to theirs. While the parable of the pearl of great price shows us a man seeking the kingdom, this parable presents to us the sight of the kingdom seeking men. Here is the grace of the gospel. It is further suggested by the woman sweeping for her lost coin, and the shepherd going after his wandering sheep (Luke 15:1-32.).
2. Christ uses means to gather disciples. The net may represent the preaching of the gospel, or all the agencies, first of Christ and his apostles, then of his missionary Church. We are not to wait till the world comes to Christ. We must mend our nets lest any slip through the broken meshes, and cast and drag them, using all means to gain some.
3. Christ aims at a large gathering of souls. The fisher does not angle with a line; he casts a net, and that net, the dragnet, is of the largest kind. Plainly his aim is large. Christ does not seek one here and there. He is the Saviour of the world. His love embraces all; his work is for the people.
II. THE GREAT DRAUGHT OF FISHES.
1. The net gathers in many fishes. At first the popularity of Christ won a multitude of adherents. Most of these fell away; but after Pentecost a larger host was brought in. Subsequently great numbers pressed in, till the balance of policy in the Roman empire swayed from heathenism to Christianity. "Like a sunbeam," says Eusebius, "it streamed over the face of the earth."
2. The fishes are of various kinds. The members of the Christian Church are not all of one class or type. Socially they differ, belonging to all grades and ranks; intellectually they differ, from a Newton to a simple ploughboy. But these differences are slight compared to the moral distinctions that are seen throughout Christendom. The Church includes a St. Francis and a Caesar Borgia. Church membership is no proof of Christianity.
III. THE SIFTING AND SORTING. Christ calls all kinds of people; but he does not accept all. "Many are called, but few are chosen." It is even possible to be a guest seated at the king's banquet, and yet to be cast out, if the wedding garment is not worn. Nevertheless, there is no unfairness or partiality; much less is there fickleness or unfaithfulness in Christ. He desires to accept all. If he must reject any, it is against his will, a pain to him. The rejection is not because of his caprice, but wholly because of the characters of those whom he cannot receive. But how are we to reconcile this with Christ's express declaration that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13)? The explanation is that the fish are found to be worthless when they are brought to land. If men remain sinners after entering the Church, they must be rejected by Christ. But Christ can change the sinner into a holy man, and he will do this with the truly penitent who trust him. Then they will not be like the worthless fish.—W.F.A.
The Christian teacher.
Christ has a word for the scribe. It is not to be supposed that all the official teachers of Israel were unworthy men and unprofitable in their work. Some, doubtless, merited the description here set before us. But this description is also meant as the guide for the Christian teacher.
I. THE TEACHER MUST BE TRAINED. He must be "a disciple to the kingdom of heaven." Secular training is valuable. As the Magi brought their wealth and poured it out before the infant Jesus, so the learned and the intellectual may well bring all their mental acquisitions to be used in the service of Christ. There is no merit in ignorance. Dulness is not devotion; stupidity is not sanctity. Nevertheless, it is not of the very valuable general training of which our Lord here speaks. It is possible to be highly cultivated in the schools and yet quite a tyro in the kingdom. The essential training of the Christian teacher must be a Christian training. As the lawyer must study law and the doctor medicine, so the Christian scribe must study Christianity. It is strange that any should think themselves fit to teach others the greatest of truths without first devoting especial attention to learning them. It is well that the Christian minister should know his Homer and his Cicero; but it is monstrous that he should be satisfied with an acquaintance with the pagan classics, without acquiring at least an equally familiar knowledge of the New Testament, which it is his life work to teach. Now, the discipleship of the kingdom is not a merely intellectual schooling. It is more than learning the letter of Scripture. Only that living grasp of spiritual truth which comes from a sympathetic study of it, interpreted by experience, can fit one to teach it to others.
II. THE TEACHER MUST BRING FORTH NEW TREASURES. He must not be a mere machine grinding out exactly the same ideas year after year. Yet he is not to invent notions of his own and give them forth as Divine revelations. The treasury to which he is to go for his materials is the sacred Scriptures. How, then, can he find anything new?
1. By new insight. Each is to read for himself. There is always a freshness in what we perceive ourselves, even if others have perceived it before. To us, at least, it is new; and our own living apprehension of it gives it a new vitality for others.
2. With fresh applications. Truth is ever assuming new colours as it is reflected on fresh objects. The Christian teacher has to apply truths of the Bible to present circumstances. It is not his business to linger among the archaeological conditions of ancient Israel, but to show how the revelation of God concerns the England of today.
3. Because of the inexhaustible fulness of the Bible. There is always fresh light for earnest eyes.
III. THE TEACHER MUST NOT NEGLECT OLD TREASURES. An idea does not cease to be valuable because it is old. Truth is eternal Facts remain. The great events of Bible history are always speaking to us; they have living lessons for our own day. The experiences of psalmist and apostle are true to the heart of man, and types of devotion for all time; we cannot afford to forget them. Above all, the revelation of Christ, though now old in centuries, is still fresh and living. We can never outgrow the gospel. Bethlehem and Calvary will always be the centres of our most helpful meditations. The new truth is only inspiring when it springs out of the old, which it does not obscure, which rather it explains and exalts.—W.F.A.
"The carpenter's Son."
Jesus returns to Nazareth after having taught and wrought miracles in many places, and follows his usual method of preaching even in the synagogue of this town of his boyhood. Of all fields of labour this is the most difficult, and we cannot be surprised that the result is disappointing. The one thing that all hearers think of is the well known homely up bringing of the great Prophet, and their familiar knowledge of this is enough to destroy the influence of his words and works.
I. THE FACT. Jesus was a carpenter's Son; St. Mark tells us that he was himself a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and it is not to be supposed that he would have lived for thirty years in the humble Nazareth home without ever contributing to its maintenance.
1. Jesus was a complete Man. He was not a mere appearance of man. He took on him man's life and its toil.
2. Jesus belonged to the artisan class. He was so truly human, so large in his sympathies, that we cannot connect any class prejudices with him. He would not side unfairly with labour against capital, any more than he would with capital against labour. Still, if there is one class which beyond all others we may be sure he does not forget or misunderstand, it is that of handicraftsmen. Working men should claim Christ as one of themselves.
3. He was trained in a secular calling. He was not brought up in a monastery; he did not spend his time in s church. His school was the carpenter's workshop. Among the shavings and sawdust his thoughts rose to heaven and the redemption of man. A wholesome secular training is a help and not a hindrance to the spiritual life.
II. HOW IT WAS REGARDED.
1. Jesus was judged by his circumstances. Other grounds of judgment were not wanting. The people of Nazareth listened to the wonderful teaching of Christ, and it astonished them. Yet they only turn to the well known external facts in coming to a conclusion about the Teacher. They seem to be attempting to dispel what they regard as the glamour of his words by the bard, common circumstances that are familiar to them. Thus men will judge by the outside, by the earthly, by the conventional.
2. Jesus was rejected where he was best known. He was judged by his circumstances and his family, all familiar to the Nazareth townsfolk. Perhaps the character of his relatives was not such as to inspire great respect; but we have no hint of this. Social inferiority and familiar homeliness were enough. Therefore we do not lose much by not having seen Jesus in his earthly life.
III. THE UNHAPPY RESULTS. Nazareth suffered for its rejection of the one Man who has since given eternal fame to the hitherto obscure Galilaean town. The sick went unhealed. A chill fog of unbelief crept over the community and quenched the gracious curative influences of the Saviour. Unbelief is a fatal hindrance to the work of Christ. It is not that he is offended and will not help. It is that the very possibility of aid is cut off. Christ's miracle working was dependent on the faith of its subjects, and when they were unbelieving he simply could not heal. "According to thy faith be it unto thee" was a common remark. Spiritually, Christ cannot save those who do not trust him, though he desires to save all, and this is the simple explanation of the miserable fact that all are not saved. Faith is not an artificial condition. It is the link of connection with Christ. If this link is missing we cannot have living relationship with him.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The beginning of parables.
Utilize introduction to dwell on the plain assertions of Matthew 13:10-17. However deep their real theological meaning, however mysterious their significance in respect of the sovereign conduct of the world and the judgment of mankind, the statements are plain. The deep, unfathomable fact underlying the quotation from Isaiah (verses 14, 15) is not altogether free from offering some analogy to the subject of the sin against the Holy Ghost (see our homily, supra), "not to be forgiven, in this world nor in the world to come." In the very pleasantest paths of the gospel the inscrutable meets us, and stands right across our way; yet not at all to destroy us, but to order knowledge, faith, and reverence. It is plain, from the express assertion of Christ, that it is to be regarded by us as some of the highest of our privilege, to have authoritative revelation of matters that may be called knowledge in "things present or things to come," which may be nevertheless utterly inscrutable. The absolutely mysterious in the individual facts of our individual life, and for which, nevertheless, the current of that life does not stand still, may stand in some sort of analogy to these greater phenomena and greater pronouncements of Divine knowledge and foreknowledge. The promise is not to be found—it were an impossible promise to find—that the marvels of Heaven's government of earth should be all intelligible to us, or should be all of them oven uttered in revelation. But some are uttered; they are written, and there, deep graven, they lie from age to age, weather beaten enough, yet showing no wear, no attrition, no obliteration of their hieroglyphic inscription—hieroglyphic not for their alphabet, but confessedly for their construction, and the vindicating of it. Note also, in introduction, that the seven parables related in this chapter, a rich cluster, certainly appear from internal evidence (alike the language of the evangelist, verse 3; that of the disciples in their question, verse 10; and that of Christ himself, verses 9, 13) to have been the first formally spoken by Christ. Of the beginning of parables, therefore, as of the beginning of miracles, we are for some reason specifically advised. Notice—
I. THE PERFECT NATURALNESS, FAMILIAR HOMELINESS, EXQUISITE APTNESS, OF THE MATERIAL OUT OF WHICH THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PARABLE IS MADE. Seed and soil; Sower and sowing; and, to throw moving life into the picture, the touch thrown in of the sower "going forth" to sow.
II. THE SPECIFIC SUBJECT OF THIS PARABLE—AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, i.e. THE WILL OF GOD "DONE IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN." Such an illustration might be given very variously. The view might be taken from many a point of vantage, and as the kingdom should be found growing or grown at many a date. This Christ might have given from all his stores of knowledge, and his true gift, true possession, of foresight. He might have shown it in the early days of martyrs; be might have shown it when Constantine proclaimed it the kingdom of Europe, and something beside; he might have shown it as Christendom projects it now; or he might have shown it even as glimpses—so strange are they that we are frightened to fix our gaze on them—are flashed before our doubting vision in the wonderful Book of the Revelation. But that which Jesus did really choose to give was one of a more present, practical character. It was, as one might suppose from very first glance, an illustration of sowing time. The sowing time of God's truth, God's will, God's love and grace, in the midst of a hard, and unprepared, and shallow, and ill-preoccupied world—with nevertheless some better, some more promising material, in it.
III. THE ILLUSTRATION ITSELF IN DETAIL. It consists of the statement of the ways in which men would act on the "hearing" of the "Word of God." Four leading ways are described.
1. That of the man who is said (in Christ's own interpretation of his parable) "not to understand" the Word spoken; i.e. he has no sympathy with it, he possesses no instinct for it, finds awakened within him no response whatever. This is the man whose receptive state amounts to nothing. As the trodden path (all the more trodden and more hard as it is comparatively narrow) across the ploughed field is approached again and again by the bountifully flinging hand of the sower, as he paces the acres, even it receives of the good seed, but its callous surface finds no entrance for it, offers it no fertilizing or even fertilized resting place, and yet others, who at least better know its value, for whatsoever reason, see it, seize it, and bear it off.
2. That of the man who "anon with joy receives" the Word. But it is a vapid and shallow joy. It does not last, it does not grow; its very root withers. The coating of hardness is not, as in the callous pathway, visible to the eye at first, for it is just concealed and covered over by a slightest layer of earth, just below which the hardness is not simply like that of "rock," but it is rock itself. There is nothing that has such a root wherewith to root itself as the Word of God, and this needs deep earth. Not the birds of the air, not Satan and his evil emissaries, take this seed away, before ever it could show a symptom of its own vital force, at any rate; this has shown its vitality, and has detected, discovered, and laid ruinously bare to sight the unsustaining, because itself unsustained, power to feed life, of that other element, that other essential in the solemn matter.
3. That of the man "who hears the Word, but the cares of this world, and the [seductive] deceitfulness of riches, and the [crowding] desires of other things," i.e. other things than the Word, "choke that Word, and it becometh unfruitful," or, if not unfruitful altogether, "it bringeth no fruit to perfection." It is the seed, still the good seed, lost, wasted, mocked of its glorious fruit, because that same liberal, scattering, Sower's hand has not grudged it, to earth, that is all the while attesting its own richness, quality, force, by what is growing out of it, but is untilled, undressed, unweeded—thorns, briers, brambles, and all most precocious growths suffered to tyrannize and usurp its best energies! How often have men moralized, and justly, that the cleverness of the sinner, and his wisdom in his generation, and his dexterity and resources when pushed to the last extremities, would have made the saint, and the eminent saint, had his gifts, instead of being so prostituted, so miserably misdirected, been turned in the right direction, fixed on the right objects! But short far of flagrant vice, true it is that the absorbing things and the seductive things and the crowding competition of desires of things of this world, have, millions of times untold, choked the Word. No room, no time, no care, no energy, has been left for the things of eternal value, immortal wealth, present holiness.
4. That of the man who "heareth, and understandeth, who also beareth fruit;" or again, "who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keeps it, and brings forth fruit with patience." It is the seed, that pricelessly good seed, which now at last has found its appropriate earth. It falls not on the hard pathway; it falls not on the treacherous, deceptive, depthlessness, all radiant with light and sun though it be; it falls not on the soil bearing at the same time incontestable evidence of two things—its own power to grow, and its own doomed state to grow the things "whose end is to be burned." It fails "into the good ground." We are in the presence of the mystery, not of "who made us to differ," but of how and why he who made us to differ, did so. The practical part of the question is plain forevery one who has an eye to see. Every man must give account of himself at the last; and every one must now prepare for that account. What sign of "goodness," what slightest germ of "goodness," what instinct, as it may seem, and power of "goodness," any man's heart, passing thought, life may just suggest—if it be but like a suggestion—must be reckoned with now, improved now, solemnly consecrated now, and the mystery will still for the present be left mystery. But the facts and the results and the blessedness will speak for themselves. And the kingdom of heaven be receiving its fairer and fairest illustration, instead of its darker and darkest illustrations. That kingdom will be the more a "coming" kingdom.—B.
Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:36-43
The great Administrator's foresight.
This second parable of the seven proceeds in a certain degree upon the lines of the first. But its object is different; and though quite in the nature of an advance on the former, it is more limited in its scope. The first parable manifestly is the foundation of this one, and perhaps it may be said of all others. We may, perhaps, judge that to each parable, as one succeeded another, quickened attention was given, at any rate, by some of the hearers. But this parable seems to have specially asked, on the part of the disciples, for explanation. The former spoke broadest truth of broadest application for all the world, whether "received" or "not received." But very possibly even the invidious element contained in this may have gained for it a quicker ear and a more curious attention on the part of the disciples. Notice—
I. HOW THIS PARABLE DATES THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AS AN ORIGINAL PLANTATION IN THE WORLD. IT DOES THIS ALIKE IN FORM AND IN THE NECESSARY IMPLICATION OF ITS MATTER. In however true a sense Jesus Christ was now himself planting afresh the kingdom of heaven on earth, its foundation was from the beginning. Long time, with most varying rate of growth, had it been growing. In how true, and even double sense true, was it that while men slept the enemy came! And how naively true, only in one sense, that when he had sowed his tares, he "went his way"! Note also, as some instance of the perpetually recurring evidential coincidences of Scripture, the ministerial function of the "Son of man" is likewise dated to the beginning, creation itself.
II. HOW FRANK AND CALM THE ADMISSION OF THE DIVINE HOUSEHOLDER OF THE DISASTROUS DAMAGE DONE IN HIS FIELD OF THE WORLD!
III. HOW SILENT-LEFT AND UNTOUCHED TO THE SERVANTS, THE QUESTION (THEORETIC ONLY, FOR THEM AS IT WOULD APPEAR TO BE DEEMED) HOW THIS WAS; AND WHY NO IMMEDIATE STRENUOUS STEPS FOR THE DISCOVERY AND CONDIGN PUNISHMENT OF THE ENEMY WERE TAKEN, OR ORDERED, OR SUGGESTED—THE COUNSELS OF HEAVEN, AND ITS HIGHEST OR DEEPEST DECREES BEING HEREIN LEFT, UNQUESTIONED, UNESPIED, IN THEIR PROPER PROFOUND INSCRUTABLE!
IV. HOW WITH PERFECT PATIENCE, WITH LARGE-EYED OBSERVATION, WITH UNPROVOKED FORBEARANCE, AND ENDURING LONG SUFFERING, THE SCENE IS SURVEYED, THE DIRECTIONS THAT ALONE ARE NEEDFUL FOR SERVANTS ARE SENT FORTH, AND TIME ALLOWED TO FLOW ON.
V. HOW TREMENDOUS BUT MOST GRACIOUS THE WITNESS BORNE TO THE LIMITED KNOWLEDGE, LIMITED DISCRIMINATION, AND EVEN VERY LIMITED SKILL OF HANDIWORK, ABLE TO BE CLAIMED BY THE SERVANTS NOW IN QUESTION.
VI. HOW BOLD, TRENCHANT, UNDISMAYED, THE DISTINCT AFFIRMATION, OF THE GREAT PROPHET PRESENT, AS REGARDS THE END, ITS SOLEMN APPORTIONMENTS, AND ITS ENTIRE DETAILED SCENERY.—B.
Matthew 13:31, Matthew 13:32
The herb that is a tree.
Note, in introduction, how much of most relevant suggestion is comprised in this very brief parable, not nevertheless of the essence of its direct meaning or direct object. E.g. is it not almost a parable within a parable to be able to observe on the appropriateness of the use of the illustration of the small mustard seed, and the seed instanced being such kind of seed as the mustard seed, to characterize Jesus Christ himself (the Sower of the seed of the kingdom) as well as that kingdom which he sowed? Another very relevant suggestion, as just intimated, springs out of the character of the mustard seed, its own intrinsic quality for fragrance, pungency, power to bring out flavour, either adding to that with which it is used, or counteracting it, or so combining with it as to make a new tertium quid. And so once more a most relevant suggestion springs out of the descriptive touch respecting the birds that fly to its shadow by day and its hospitable lodging by night. The subject, however, of this parable is of course still illustration of the kingdom of heaven, in some one certain respect or more. As the first parable was an illustration of it, ever applicable and on the broadest foundation; and the second, one still ever applicable, but intensely important as it might be, and that especially in its far reachingness, yet somewhat more limited in its scope; so we shall be sure to find the specialty of this third parable stamped unmistakably upon it. Notice that it is distinctly foretold that—
I. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS TO HAVE ITS OWN DEVELOPMENT; IT IS TO GROW OF ITSELF AND FROM ITSELF. Wherever it is, whatever it works upon, whatever it may attract to itself, it shall receive into itself; leave some of it, take some of it, incorporate this, have one body and one spirit, and own to no rival.
II. THAT DEVELOPMENT WILL IN NO SENSE BE SIMPLY COMMENSURABLE WITH ITS BEGINNING, EVEN WHEN EVERY ALLOWANCE SHALL BE MADE FOR THE ORDINARY MEASURE OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BEGINNING AND THAT TO WHICH IT MAY GROW. It will contradict and gloriously disappoint untaught expectation. No mere proverbial oak from acorn will suffice to set forth the development this growth will attain. The only analogy that wilt suit will be the example of something that is indeed perfectly natural, but looks something other than natural. Wide nature, the work of God, will indeed find the analogue, however humble the scale of it. This is a very small seed, and its proper growth a herb; but the herb refuses to answer very strictly to its own sort, and waxes into a tree; and shows the features and properties of the tree, "shooting out great branches." So is the kingdom of heaven. And whether the seed be called that which was once found in the manger, or that which was once found in the tomb, it seemed small indeed—neither at the former time nor at the latter was it counted for anything but a thing to be disregarded and despised—yet to what was it to grow!
III. THAT GROWTH FROM SMALLEST SEED, THAT KINGDOM FOUNDED FROM HOST UNPROMISING MATERIAL, SHALL PROVE ITSELF NOT A GROWTH OF MERE GRANDEUR TO BEHOLD, NOT A MONUMENT OF HUMAN PRIDE OF POWER AND CONQUEST; BUT A RESORT OF HEAVENLY SHADE, HEAVENLY SAFETY, HEAVENLY REST—A HEAVENLY HOME FOR ALL THAT WILL, SEEK IT, FOR ALL THAT WILL WING THEIR FLIGHT, WEARY OR GLAD, TO IT. This tree is in a new sense the tree of life, offered to all, and as free to all as air, and. spreading branches, and whispering winds, the breath of morning, or the sweet sighings of evening, with their invitations, could make it, for all birds and "fowl of every wing" that fly under heaven.—B.
Matthew 13:33-36 (see also Luke 13:20, Luke 13:21)
The foretold now become the told.
In introduction, note that perhaps no parable more postulates that the student of it insist on observing the essential canon in the interpretation of every parable, viz. that its one main object be kept steadily in view, and that it was kept in view by the Author of it. So much may be made, even by warrant of Scripture, in respect of the ill associations of leaven, that if this be dwelt upon without a steady memory of the quality and the one use of leaven, whether in good association or in bad, the student vision will be a double one, and his judgment warped and distorted. So, though in risk far inferior, and of far less moment, the incidents of this very brief parable, e.g. of the mention of the "woman" who took the leaven, and of the "three measures" of meal in which she is represented as hiding it, may easily be turned, for they have been so turned, to what tends to mar, instead of to complete our distinct apprehension and appropriation of the matter of the parable. These may, indeed, heighten effect, and, if possible, may beautify effect. They may be, perhaps, not illegitimately used to these very ends. They may so chime in with history, with fact, with reverent associations of faith, as not to be unjustified, for the very helpfulness and devoutness of them. But they must be subordinated to their right place and sphere with a stern resolution. Of this simplest parable illustration of the kingdom of heaven on earth many difficulties have been made, and not a little distortion and perversion even; but in its brief simplicity it says—
I. THAT A CERTAIN PRESENCE OF SELF-ACTING INTRINSIC QUALITY AND TRANSMUTING FORCE IS INTRODUCED INTO WHAT MAY BE CALLED THE SOCIETY OF THIS WORLD, OR, MORE FORMALLY, THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD.
II. THAT THIS IS BROUGHT DISTINCTLY FROM WITHOUT, IN NO SENSE BEING ONE WITH THAT INTO WHICH IT IS INTRODUCED.
III. THAT SO SOON AS INTRODUCED, HOWEVER SILENTLY, HOWEVER SUDDENLY, IT BEGINS TO INCORPORATE ITSELF, AND TO BE ASSIMILATED, WORKING. UNCEASINGLY AND IN EVERY DIRECTION UPON THE MASS OF MATERIAL IN WHICH IT IS HIDDEN, AND IN WHICH IT SEEMS SMOTHERED.
IV. THAT ITS OPERATION DOES NOT CEASE UNTIL IT HAS TRANSMUTED THAT WHOLE MASS. All this was foretold; and all this was divinely called parable. But history has told it, and it has ceased by any possibility to be able to be called mere parable. In every respect it has been witnessed to, illustrated by most evident facts, and proved with not a shadow of doubt or uncertainty. The amazing mission of Christ to this world, his sojourn in it, his replacement by the Holy Spirit, the suddenness of this new and most wonderful and most gracious "departure," the silence and obscurity of the subduing and transforming work, and its unceasingness to the present hour, have all been fact, and are all forming an overwhelming presage of the further development and growth of their conquering power and grace. It means that the process, so wonderful, so potent, so beneficent, shall know no pause till the whole lump is leavened.—B.
The treasure of great, but careful, joy.
Note, in introduction, that this fifth parable was not spoken from the ship to the multitude upon the shore, but within "the house;" and the character of it seems in some relative degree to alter. It is no longer a parable, illustrating the kingdom of heaven in respect of the manner of its operation, but emphasizing the value of itself, and the sense of its value as entertained and proved by some; and it is no longer a parable revealing the wide hold it shall establish over the mass of mankind, but the mighty hold it shall gain upon the individuals of whom the mass is composed. The parable exhibits these facts respecting the kingdom, and that which is of the very essence of it—the treasure of the gospel, the truth of Christ.
I. HOW SOVEREIGN AND FREE IT IS, IN THE NATURE OF ITS FIRST APPROACH TO ANY ONE! The present parable is not spoken of one who seeks already, but of one who, in the midst of his own duty, life's labour and toil, lights on the treasure. Why has he lighted upon it? In this case it will not do to say chance! Nor is it often given to us to say why. It is for the blest man himself, however, to count it an example of free, unmerited, sovereign goodness and mercy.
II. HOW IT IN A MOMENT EXCITES THE ATTENTION, AND LAYS HOLD OF THE DESIRE OF HIM WHO GETS BUT ONE REAL GLIMPSE OF IT! The effect in such cases is immediate; the man takes in at once the value of the opportunity that has opened before him.
III. HOW GREAT THE JOY OF THAT SUDDEN SURPRISE!
IV. HOW CAREFUL, AT THE SAME TIME, THAT JOY SHOWS ITSELF!
V. HOW CORRECT THE ESTIMATE PUT UPON THE VALUE! IT IS TREASURE, AND IT IS SUCH TREASURE, THAT HE WILL FORSAKE AND WILL SELL ALL ELSE FOR THAT.—B.
Matthew 13:45, Matthew 13:46
The superlative prize going to the seeker.
This sixth parable is also one which rather illustrates the power of the kingdom of heaven in its action on the individual. Under some aspect of it, it has justly fascinated him. For some reason he has seen, justly seen, his advantage in it, and has not confused that advantage with any lower one, nor lost it in even a thousand others. Therefore it seems to him, manifold though it really is, as one undivided thing, one prize of boundless desirableness—a pearl justly appraised as of great price. The parable exhibits, then, the kingdom of heaven as—
I. PRESENTING ITSELF A PRIZE TO ONE WHO SEEKS PRIZES. He has the advantage of being a business man; he knows his business; he is accustomed to weigh, and compare, and judge, and choose, and to pay accordingly. He is an expert of a trained eye, trained mind, and trained knowledge. He knows pearls, and very many of them.
II. IMPRESSING HIM IRRESISTIBLY, AS AN INCOMPARABLE, A SUPERLATIVE PRIZE.
III. JUSTIFYING HIM REASONABLY AND UNHESITATINGLY, AT THE SAME TIME, IN STAKING EVERYTHING ELSE WHATSOEVER ON THE POSSESSING HIMSELF OF THAT ONE PRIZE. This seeker, this merchant of pearls, had thought to make his advantage out of a succession of pearls, or had hoped fondly to find his fortune in many of them gathered together; but he comes to find he needs only one, that only one will answer his idea and his quest, and that it is now before him.—B.
The gathering together in order to the separating.
Note, in introduction, that this parable is by no means merely another version of that of the tares. As a priori we should feel certain it could not be so, it needs neither long nor deep search to see that it certainly is not so. The resemblance between the two parables lies only on the surface, and not less true is it that on the very surface also lies sufficient conviction of the real difference between the two. The illustration of the kingdom of heaven furnished by this parable sets it forth—
I. AS A LARGE GATHERING OF PERSONS OF VERY VARIOUS CHARACTER, WHO HAVE ENTERED FROM THE RESTLESS WAVES OF THIS TROUBLESOME WORLD WITHIN AN ENCLOSURE, NOT OF THEIR OWN MAKING, NOT OF THEIR OWN DESIGNING, AND NOT OF THEIR OWN PLACING, AND THERE FOR A TIME KEPT TOGETHER.
II. AS A GATHERING OF DIFFERENT PERSONS, WHO, THOUGH LONG FOUND TOGETHER WITHIN THAT ENCLOSURE, WOULD AT LENGTH BE SEPARATED; BE CALLED THE GOOD OR THE BAD, THE "WICKED" OR THE "JUST;" AND BE DEALT WITH ACCORDINGLY.
III. AS A GATHERING OF SUCH AS ABOVE DESCRIBED, THE SEPARATION AMONG WHOM AT LAST WOULD BE MADE BY SOVEREIGN AND IRRESISTIBLE AND SUPREME AUTHORITY.
The defying of conviction.
What is written in this passage is not to be understood as following close upon the speaking of the four parables from the ship, and the three following upon them, and which were spoken in the house. Nevertheless, the Evangelist Matthew furnishes us with the suggestive link, which consists of the fifty-third verse. The parables, with all their Divine fulness of meaning, whether more or less mystic, and whether those to the multitude and disciples, or to the disciples alone, are for the present "finished." But "wisdom and mighty works" are not finished; and he who speaks the wisdom and who does the mighty works journeys untiringly elsewhere, and with his face toward "his own country." Notice—
I. A CERTAIN POSITION OF HUMAN NATURE HERE DESCRIBED—VIZ. CONVICTION ITSELF, CONFRONTED BY A STUMBLING BLOCK. The "wisdom" and the "mighty works" are not denied, are not doubted; are asserted and proclaimed. The material of conviction was all present, and its work asserted itself. The way is surely perfectly plain for the human mind, and what further need be said?
II. A CERTAIN ATTITUDE OF HUMAN NATURE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES DESCRIBED. It is an uneasy attitude, one of uncertainty, one of casting about, how it is possible to make a difficulty, to get over, and conquer plain duty. It may be readily granted that there did exist a difficulty not inconsiderable for those who are here spoken of; that a difficulty was present in the very existence of so great a cause for wonder; that the difficulty was not lessened by the fact that he who was now the centre of observation and of admiration, and, to say the least of it, of unparalleled surprise, had been one familiarly known, and his family familiarly known, and familiarly known not as among those who were princes of the world in wealth, or in station, or in power and exalted sphere of influence.
III. A CERTAIN UNSATISFACTORY, INCONSEQUENTIAL, AND UTTERLY RECKLESS TREATMENT OF THE DILEMMA BETWEEN THE DIFFICULTY AND THE CONFESSED TO CONVICTION. It is the treatment called defiance. The difficulty is not reasoned out to the end; nor is it treasured in reverent patience to await further light; nor is its comparative, practical, unimportance acknowledged, and permitted to relegate it to its proper subordinate place. But the difficulty is petted and made much of, while conviction is defied, and conscience is dishonoured. These are bowed off the solemn scene; and with them another retreats awhile at least. It is he of whom it is said, "He could do no mighty work there, save that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them;" and again, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief;" and, "He marvelled because of their unbelief." Some day later, when their eyes were perforce opened, and something beside their eyes also, what a marvel, what a reproach, what a remorse, that identical instance and working of "unbelief" must have been to them!—B.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Parable of the sower.
The object of this parable is to explain the causes of the failure and success of the gospel. It might have been supposed enough to proclaim the kingdom. Why does this fail? It fails, says our Lord, because of the nature of the soil. This soil is often impervious, often shallow, often dirty.
I. "SOME SEEDS FELL BY THE WAYSIDE, AND THE FOWLS CAME AND DEVOURED THEM." The spiritual analogue is said to be in him "who heareth the Word, but understandeth it not." The beaten footpath and the cart track have their uses, but they grow no corn. The seed may be of the best quality, but for all purposes of sowing you might as well sprinkle pebbles or shot. So there is a hearing which keeps the Word entirely outside. It does not even enter the understanding. It rouses no inquiry, provokes no contradiction. You have occasion sometimes to mention a fact to a friend which should alter all his purpose, but you find he has not taken it in. So, says our Lord, there are hearers who do not take in what is said; their understanding is impervious, impenetrable. They hear because this has come to be one of the many employments with which they fill up their time, but they have never considered why they should do so, or what result they should look for. Or there may be a slowness and cold frostiness of nature which prevents the seed from fructifying. The proposals made suggest nothing to the wayside hearer. In some cases the seed apparently lost for years is quickened and brings forth fruit, but in this case never.
II. THE SECOND FAULT IS SHALLOWNESS. The sprinkling of soil on the surface of the rock, where the seed quickly springs, and for the same reason quickly decays. There is not depth of soil for any time to be spent in rooting. The shallow hearer is distinguished by two characteristics—he straightway receives the Word, and he receives it with joy. The man of deeper character receives it with seriousness, reverence, trembling, foreseeing the trials he will be subjected to. But while these are pondering the vastness of the revelation and the majesty of the hope, and striving to forecast all the results in and upon them, hesitating because they would receive the Word for eternity or not at all, the superficial man has settled the whole matter out of hand, and he who yesterday was known as a scoffer is today a loud-voiced child of the kingdom. These men are almost certainly taken to be the most earnest; you cannot see the root, and what is seen is shown in greatest luxuriance by them. But the same nature which made them susceptible to the gospel and quickly responsive makes them susceptible to pain, suffering, hardship, and easily defeated. When consequences have to be faced they give way. The question of how these shallow natures can be saved hardly falls within the parable, but it may be right to say a man's nature may be deepened by the relationships and conflicts of life. Much deepening of character is effected in passing through life.
III. THE THIRD FAULT IS WHAT IS TECHNICALLY KNOWN AS DIRT. The soil can only support a certain amount of vegetation, and every living weed means a choked blade of corn. This is a picture of the preoccupied heart, the rich vigorous nature occupied with so many other interests that only a small part is available for giving effect to Christ's ideas. Their interest is real, but there are so many other cares and desires that the result is scarcely discernible. The good crop is not the one with the greatest density of vegetation, but where all is wheat. Most soils have a kind of weed congenial, and the weeds here specified are "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches," the former being merely the poor man's species of the latter Among rich and poor alike you will find many who would be left without any subject of thought and any guiding principle in action, if you took from them anxiety about their own position in life. It is not enough to put aside distracting thoughts. Cutting down the thorns won't do; still less holding them aside till the seed be sown. It is vain to hope for the only right harvest of a human life if your heart is sown with worldly ambitions, a greedy hasting to be rich, an undue love of comfort, a true earthliness of spirit. One seed only must be sown in you, and it will produce all needed diligence in business as well as all fervour of spirit.
There is one important distinction between material and moral sowing. Man is possessed of free will, the power of checking to some extent natural consequences. Therefore the gospel is to be preached to every creature, and we may be expected to bring to the hearing of it a soft, deep, clean soil of heart—what Luke calls "an honest and good heart." There will be differences of crop even among those who bring good hearts, but wherever the Word is held fast and patiently cared for, there the life wilt produce all that God cares to have from it. But even the honest heart is not enough unless we keep the Word. The sower must be at pains to cover in the seed and watch that it be not taken away. So the hearer loses his labour unless his mind goes back on what he has heard, and he sees that he has really got hold of it. We have all heard all that is necessary for life and godliness; it remains that we make it our own, that it secures a living root in us and in our life. We must bear it in mind, so that all that comes before us may throw new light on it and give it further hold on us.—D.
Parable of the tares.
In the parable of the tares we see what appearance the kingdom of heaven presents in this world, and are warned against expecting to see now that perfect condition which wilt in the end be brought about. It has perplexed God's servants in all times that all in this earth should not be unmingled good. This world is God's; men are his property. And all that is needful for the production of the fruit dear to God has been done by him; and yet look at the result. Has he mistaken the capabilities of the field, or does he not care to develop them? The answer is, "An enemy hath done this." This is enough for us to know. We are not to stop short of this, and pause at men and hate them; but, pitying them, are to pass with our indignation and hatred to the enemy. We are not, on the other hand, to go beyond Satan, and think blasphemously of God as the Sower of bad seed; but, viewing his friendliness, and the cost he spends on this field, and his destruction of our enemy by his Son, are to spend all our hate on Satan. Such being the condition of the field and such the cause, what is to be the conduct of the servants? "Wilt thou that we go and gather them up?" This and that other propagator of falsehood, and perpetrator of evil, would it not be well if their hindrance were taken out of the way? Would not good men come to a quicker and more fruitful maturity were they not continually held down by the scoffing, exasperated by the persecution, and led astray by the example of the ungodly? "Let both grow together until the harvest," is the law of the Master. Again and again the Church has, in the face of this parable, taken upon her to root up infidels and heretics. The reasoning has been short and summary. We are Christ's; these men are Satan's—let us destroy them. This attempt to make the field of the world appear uniform has been one of the most disastrous hindrances to the growth of religion. This measure of the servants has effected a more frightful desolation and barrenness than anything which the existence of the tares could have done. But each of us has something of the persecutor within him, and needs to apply this parable to himself. It does not say that the world is as it ought to be, does not say that there is no distinction, or a very insignificant one, between good and bad men, but tells us we are not to act upon this distinction to the extent of injuring a man. If a man, because he is ungodly, defrauds his neighbour, murders, or robs, he is of course lawfully punished, but not on the score of his ungodliness, but of his breaking human law; not because he has been an unprofitable creature of God's and an offence in the sight of God, but because he is an injurious member of a civil community. No punishment is to be inflicted by us purely on the ground of a man's spiritual condition, of his not bearing fruit in the kingdom of heaven. It is most detrimental to the cause of Christianity when a Christian in his conduct towards an ungodly person seems to be always saying, "I wish you were out of the world; and for my part, and as far as I can, you shall be deprived of all its advantages." From the earliest times, however, it has been the all but universal opinion that this parable had reference to ecclesiastical discipline. And if not meant in its first intention to be applied thus, it is valid for this purpose as well. Within the Church it is often very difficult to know what is wheat and what is not. An opinion which is condemned as scandalous or full of danger may turn out to be true and wholesome; if it be at once pronounced tares and thrown over the hedge, the good fruit it might have borne is thrown away with it. And even where it is clear that evil has sprung up in the Church, it is a further question whether it should be summarily removed. If you leave false doctrine alone, may you not get rid of it sooner than if you fix public attention upon it? No man who had a regard for his field would carry a seeding thistle through every part of it and shake it in every corner. Our Lord gives two reasons for this method of delay.
1. If we endeavour to anticipate the end, we shall injure the children of the kingdom. You are not to root up the tares, because you will inevitably root up good corn along with them. You cannot injure one man and one only, and of those who are attached to him can you be sure there are none who are of the kingdom?
2. But the kingdom of heaven has a Judge and an executive of its own, which will be apparent in the end. And when we reflect that what has raised our indignation has been observed by God, and will assuredly be dealt with by him, this not only stifles our indignation, but impels us to seek to save the sinner from the punishment he is earning. The bearing of this parable, then, on ourselves cannot be mistaken. Wheat and darnel, it says, are almost identical in appearance, but the root of the principle of the one is different from the other; the one is good food, the other is poison and they will eventually be treated accordingly. From this similarity it arises:
(1) That the darnel is apt to think itself as good as the wheat. But the question is not whether you are not at present to all appearance as useful and pleasant a member of society as they, but whether there is not that in them which will grow to good and that in you which will grow to evil. What is it that is producing your actual life and character? What is the motive power? Is it mere desire to get on, or respect for your own good name? Or is your character being more and more formed by the belief that God calls you to live for him and for eternity? Are you rooted in Christ? Do you grow out of him?
(2) The wheat is apt to think itself no better than darnel. You are troubled because others seem to be as regular, as zealous, as successful, in duty as you; they have even the advantage of you in some respects. Some natural infirmity of temper has fixed its stamp on you, or you are choked by uncongenial surroundings. But look to the end here predicted, "when all that offends shall be taken out of the way," and "the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Be sure only that there is that in you which will shine forth if the hindrances and blinds be taken out of the way.—D.
Parable of the leaven.
This parable directs our attention to two points connected with the extension of Christianity. It illustrates
(1) first, the kind of change which Christianity works in the world;
(2) second, the method by which this change is wrought.
I. THE CHANGE OUR LORD MEANT TO EFFECT IN THE WORLD was to be a change not so much of outward forms as of the spirit and character of all things. The propagation of his influence is set forth and illustrated, not by a woman taking a mass of dough and making it into new shapes, but by a woman putting that into the dough which alters the character of the whole mass. There are two ways in which you may revolutionize a country or society. You may pull down the old forms of government, or you may fill them with men of a different spirit, revise the constitution, or, leaving it untouched, fill official positions with the right men. A machine refuses to work, and people tell you the construction is wrong; but the skilled mechanic pushes aside the ignorant crowd, and puts all to rights with a few drops of oil. Few distinctions are of wider application. What is pointed at is rather the regenerative than the creative power of Christ's Spirit; not so much the new facts and habits to which Christian feeling gives birth, as the new feelings and views it has about existing customs, institutions, relationships, occupations. His Spirit, he says, does not require new channels; a man does not require new arteries, but to have them filled with health-giving blood. In establishing the kingdom of heaven our Lord did not intend to erect a vast organization over against the world, but he meant to introduce into the world itself a leaven which should subdue all things to his own Spirit. It was to be without observation, hidden as leaven among meal.
II. THE METHOD BY WHICH THE KINGDOM IS TO GROW. Kingdoms have been extended in various ways, but chiefly by force, by the strong band. And the idea that men can be compelled to accept the truth seems never to be wholly eradicated from the human mind. But our Lord teaches that the extension of his Spirit throughout the world is to be by the secret unnoticed influence of man upon man. No doubt there is a direct agency of God in each case, but God works through natural means, and the natural means here pointed to is personal influence. Than this there is no mightier power. Take even the influence of those who least intend to influence you, and seem least capable of it. Think of the influence in many ways of the little child who cannot stand alone; or of those who seem wholly pushed aside from the busy world by ill health or misfortune. How we have been brought to a chastened, sober habit by their suffering; and to the recognition of what is essential and what accidental, what good and what evil in the world! For the operation of this influence there must be:
1. A mixing; that is to say, there must be contact of the closest kind between the regenerate and the unregenerate. The leaven is manifestly useless while it lies by itself. If our Lord had secluded himself in the household of Bethany, and never eaten with publicans and sinners, little of his Spirit could have passed into other men. The closeness of the intimacy, the depth of the love, is the measure of the effect produced. And in a country like ours, where what belonged yesterday to one person is today possessed by a thousand, good or evil propagates itself with the speed and certainty of contagion, the more effectually because insensibly. There is no banishment for the moral leper; no man can be evil for himself alone. This mixing is provided for in various ways—by nature, which sets us in families; by society, which compels contact of various kinds with others. Beyond these are the casual meetings we are unawares thrown into, and the voluntary friendships and associations we form. Of the first we may say, that if we cannot always choose our company we can always choose how we shall conduct ourselves in it; we can make our meeting a means of spreading the Spirit of Christ. The additions to his kingdom must be chiefly from among those who do not at present respond to Christian sentiments. For the regulation of connections which we form of our own choice the parable suffices. Can they be leavened, and by us? It is folly to argue that because some one else can go into certain company, or engage in certain pursuits and not be the worse for it, that therefore you can do so. But there is a culpable refusal to mix as well as a too great eagerness to do so. Two very opposite feelings lead to this.
(1) One is the Pharisaic contempt for, or hopelessness about, other people. A converted person often seems to forget the hole of the rock whence he was digged—what he was yesterday, and what the unbeliever on whom he scowls may be tomorrow. Or
(2) there is the opposite feeling, that our influence can only do harm. But this feeling should prompt us not to separate ourselves from the world, but to renew our connection with the leaven. If we fear to touch another lest we communicate disease, let us first touch him out of whom flows healing for all diseases.
2. But, the mixing being accomplished, how does the process succeed? The parable says—Be leaven, and you will leaven. Be a Christian, and you must make Christians or help to make them. No doubt direct address forms one great part of the means of leavening those around you, but the figure here points rather to the all-pervading and subtle extension of Christian principles than to their declared and aggressive advocacy. What is the influence of your example? If you are not leavening others, it is because you are yourself unleavened. There is no such thing as leaven that does not work. You cannot confine the perfume to the flower, or restrict the light of the sun to its own globe. It is a glorious consummation here spoken of—till "the whole" is leavened. In Christ's kingdom is to be gathered all that has ever served or gladdened humanity. His Spirit is to take possession of all national characteristics and all individual gifts. And all is to be achieved through personal influence. Can you know the earnestness of Christ in this behalf, and lift no finger to help him? Is there nothing you ought to do in leavening some little bit of the great mass?—D.
Parables of the hid treasure and the pearl of price.
These parables depict the two great classes of men who become Christians. Some men are born merchants, others day labourers; some, i.e., are born with a noble instinct which prompts them to believe that there is infinite joy and satisfaction to be found, and that it shall be theirs; others, again, never look beyond their present attainment, have no speculation in them, no broad plan of life nor much idea that any purpose is to be served by it. This difference, when exhibited in connection with religion, becomes very marked.
I. The point of the first parable, and its distinction from the other, seems to lie in this—that while the man was giving a deeper furrow to his field, intent only on his team, his ploughshare suddenly grated upon the chest that contained the treasure. Or he may have been sauntering through a neighbour's field, when his eye is attracted by some sign that fixes him for the moment to the spot, because he knows that treasure must be there. Ages before this treasure had been hid; for him it had been prepared without any intention or labour of his, and now suddenly he lights upon it. Out of poverty he, to his own astonishment, steps into wealth, and his whole life is changed for a time without hope or effort of his own. So, says our Lord, is the kingdom of heaven. Suddenly, in the midst of other thoughts, a man is brought face to face with Christ, and while earning his daily bread and seeking no more than success in life can give him, unexpectedly finds that eternal things are his. We only think of what we can make of life, not of the wealth God has laid in our path. But suddenly our steps are arrested; circumstances that seem purely accidental break down the partition that has hemmed us in to time, and we see that eternity is ours. We thought we had a house, a hundred acres of land, a thousand pounds well invested, and we find we have God. We were comforting ourselves with the prospect of increased salary, of ampler comforts and advantages, and a voice comes ringing through our soul, "All things are yours; for ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." How it is that the eyes are now opened to this treasure, we can as little tell as the ploughman how he has never till this day seen the treasure. A few words casually dropped, some pause which allows the mind to wander in unaccustomed directions—one cannot say what is insufficient to bring the wandering and empty soul to a settled possession of the kingdom of heaven. But this morning he was content with what a man can have outside of God's kingdom, this evening everything outside that kingdom has lost its value and is as nothing. We are apt to think that, as the acceptance of Christ is the most important attainment a man can make, there ought to be some proportionate effort or expectancy on his part—that so great a treasure is not to be made over to one who is not caring for or thinking of it. But this parable shows us that there may be a finding without any previous seeking; that the essential thing is, not whether a man has been seeking, and how long and how earnestly, but whether he has found. The question is—Does a man know the value of what has turned up before him? and is he so in earnest as to sell all for it?
II. The second parable introduces us to the man who sets out with the inborn conviction or instinct that there is something worth the labour and search of a life, something to which we can wholly, freely, and eternally give ourselves up. He refuses to be satisfied with the moderate, often interrupted, often quenched joys of this world, though he considers them as goodly pearls. He goes on from one acquirement to another. Money is good, but friendship is better; he parts with the one to get the other. The respect of his fellows is good, but self-respect and a pure conscience are better. Human love is a goodly pearl, but this only quickens him to crave insatiably for the love of God. He refuses to believe that God has created us to be partially satisfied, happy at intervals, content with effort, believing ourselves blessed, but to be partakers of his own blessedness. This spirit of expectation is encouraged by the parable. It seems to say to us, "Covet earnestly the best gifts." It is not for you who have a God of infinite resource and of infinite love to accustom yourselves to merely negative blessings, and doubtful, limited conditions. There does exist a perfect condition, a pearl of great price, and there is but a question of the way to it, a question of search. You are to start with this belief, and to hold it to the end. Under no compulsion, in the face of no disappointment, give up the persuasion that into your life and soul the full sense of ample possession is one day to enter. You have certainty on your side—simple, sheer certainty; for "he that seeketh findeth." The important point in these parables is that which is common to both—the incomparable value of the kingdom of heaven, and the readiness with which one who perceives its value will give up all for it. The merchant does not part with his other possessions reluctantly when he wishes to obtain some better possession; he longs to get rid of them. People may think him mad selling out at low prices, at unsuitable times, at a loss; but he knows what he is doing. The world is full of stories that display the ingenuity, craft, perseverance, consuming zeal, spent on winning the piece of ground coveted. But is this not rather a picture of what ought to be than of what is? We see men hesitating to part with anything for the kingdom of heaven, looking at it as a sad alternative, as a resort to which they must perhaps betake themselves when too old to enjoy life any longer, but not as that on which life itself may best be spent. Entrance into it is looked upon much as entrance into the fortified town is viewed by the rural population; it may be necessary in time of danger, but it is by constraint, not from love, that they make the change. What meaning has this "selling of all" in our life? For it is to be observed that there is always this selling wherever the kingdom of heaven is won. It is what you really love that you spend thought and effort and money upon, not what you know you ought to love and are trying to persuade yourself to love. In conclusion, this parable lets fall two words of warning.
1. Make your choice and act upon it. If there is no better pearl, no higher treasure than what you can win by devotion to business and living for yourself, then by all means choose that and make the most of it. But if you think that Christ was right, if you foresee that what is outside his kingdom must perish, and that he has gathered within it all that is worthy, all that is enduring, then let the reasonableness and remonstrance of this parable move you to show some eagerness in winning that great treasure.
2. If you have this treasure, do not murmur at the price you have paid for it. Having what worlds cannot buy, you will surely not vex yourself by longing for this or that which the poorest-spirited slave of this world can easily obtain.—D.
The parable of the net.
This parable, the last of the series, directs our thoughts to the completion of the kingdom. "So shall it be in the end of the world;" this is the starting point of the interpretation. We are to consider what part the kingdom of heaven is to play then; when other kingdoms have played their parts; when. things are being settled for eternity according to their value to God. It makes no practical difference in the application of the parable whether you make the net the Church, or simply the progress of all things towards eternity. Our Lord would have us consider the consummation of all things, when the great net shall at last be drawn to shore, when there shall be no more sea, no ebb and flow, especially no mingling of bad and good in an obscure and confusing element; but decision and separation, a deliberate sitting down to see what has been made of this world by us all, and a summing up on that eternal shore of all gains and results, and every man's aim made manifest by his end.
I. THIS PARABLE SUGGESTS THAT WE ARE ALL INEVITABLY ADVANCING. Our condition in this respect bears a close resemblance to fish enclosed in a net. At first, while the net is wide, they frisk and leap and seem free, but soon they discover that their advance is but in one direction, and when they halt they feel the pressure of the net. So it is with ourselves. We must go on; we cannot break through into the past; we cannot make time stand still till we resolve how to spend it. The years spent in indecision, in doubt, in self-seclusion, cannot now be filled with service of God and profit to our fellows.
II. THE NET SUGGESTS THE IDEA OF ENTANGLEMENT. Looking at fish in a net, you see many that are not swimming freely, but caught in the meshes and dragged on. Many have this interpreted by their own experience. They feel daily the pressure of the net; their position is not altogether of their own choosing, and now they discharge its duties because they must, not because they would. Such a condition may be sinful or sinless. If the duties required of you be sinful, then have you not recognized the detriment to your own soul? Do you not reflect that what was good when first entangled may be landed broken, bruised, and useless? But if the duties required of you are not violations of God's Law or offences to your own conscience, then rest satisfied with them, till God shows you a way of escape. Do not toss and struggle in the net, but quietly set yourself to make the most of the condition you have unfortunately fallen into. It may be your duty to continue in a position it was not originally your duty to enter. Just because it seems in many points unsuitable, it may call out deeper qualities within you—a patience that would otherwise have been undeveloped in you, a knowledge of man and of God that enlarges and matures your spirit. By very strange influences and means are we passing onwards, and we would often fain escape from the gentle compulsion by which God draws us to our end and bliss; and therefore must we bear in mind that however entangled and tied up we are and prevented. from our own ways and directions, this present is, after all, only the drawing of the net, and not the time of our use. We are pressing to a shore where there is room and time enough for the fulfilment of every human purpose and exercise of every faculty.
III. Again, a third thing the net shows us is THE MIXTURE IN IT. "It gathers of every kind." And until it is fairly landed it is impossible to say whether the weight is to be rejoiced in or no. It is the glory of the kingdom of heaven that there is no man to whom it is not appropriate. It does not only gather those in whom it finds something congenial, a natural susceptibility of temperament inclining them to devotion; but it gathers in of every kind because it is suited to that moral condition in respect of which there is no difference of importance between one man and another. But this mixture has its chief importance in connection with the ultimate separation. There are two great classes in which are to be forever included all other distinctions and diversities. All must pass through the hands of the Judge. By keeping God out of your thoughts now, you do not secure that you shall never think of him, and that he shall never think of you. And this is specially a parable of warning. The figure is carried out and applied only so far as it concerns the fate of the wicked. The angels sever the wicked from among the just, so that the just alone are left in the net. The fishermen have thrown the net for a purpose, and whatever is not suitable for this purpose is refuse and rubbish to them. And so it shall be in the end of the world. Men will then understand what now scarcely one can constantly believe, that it is God's purpose that is silently being accomplished, and that it is usefulness to him that is the final standard of value. This will make a rapid separation among men. Have you those qualities which would serve to carry out such purposes as you know God's to be? Do you find now so much delight in doing his commandments, in living under his eye, that you can believe that in the end he can make some use of you? Do not say, "I will not alarm myself by judging of my own qualities; I am trusting to Christ;" for precisely in so far as you are trusting to Christ you have those qualities which God will require you to show. One other thing must be observed. The fish taken in the net are disposed of by the fishermen; are in their hands as mere dead matter without choice or motion. This handling and disposing of by others is not more new to the fishes than it will be to us. Here in this world we are conscious of a power to choose and regulate our own destiny—a power to change and become something quite different from what we are. But there comes a time when whatever you are that you shall forever be; when you must abide by your choice and take all its consequences. This parable, therefore, has a most significant hint for those who decline to accept Christ on these two grounds.
1. That they do not practically need his help; that they can do all that is required of them very well without him.
2. That they do not see in the lives of those who do believe in him any such superiority as to induce them to follow their example and believe. But the difficulty now is for any serious and right-minded person to avoid accepting Christ's help. In order to do so a man would need to have been born outside of Christendom altogether. Besides, as regards conduct, can a man satisfy his conscience without Christ's help? He holds a relation to God as well as to man, and it is no apology for an unfilial attitude towards God to affirm that we fulfil all our duties to men. This parable reminds us that it is serviceableness which must determine our destiny in the future life; or, as God does not desire mere service, but the delighted cooperation of sons, it is sonship which determines our destiny. And who but Christ enables us to see what sonship is, and to become sons? As to the second reason, this parable not only admits, but makes much of the fact, that all that is within the net is by no means approved by God. But is not the kingdom as it ought to be worth striving for? Was the life of Christ misspent? and would it be a lamentable state of affairs on earth if his rule and spirit everywhere prevailed? The eternity that some are advancing towards, our Lord does not hesitate to describe as "a furnace of fire, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Surely the condition that is so sad as to occupy the souls of those who are in it with eternal lamentation ought to occupy with some feelings the hearts of those who can give no reason why they shall not be there. It is not by some other and extraordinary way that you will evade what God warns you of, but only by the timeous use of what he has long ago told you, and what you ought long ago to have used.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Jesus had wrought many splendid miracles, lie was himself the greatest Wonder. It is not surprising that he should have been followed by crowds. For convenience in addressing the multitude on this occasion, he entered a boat, and stood out from the beach. As he was about to open his mouth in parables, perhaps this action was parabolic. The pious Quesnel remarks, "We see here a representation of the Church, which consists of people united with their pastors. These, being more exposed to violent tossings and storms, are, as it were, in a ship, while those continue at ease on the shore." Foremost among the parables uttered is that of the sower. It is afterwards interpreted, Let us view it—
I. AS TO THE SOWING. Under this head we have:
1. The seed.
(1) This is the saving truth of God. In the interpretation it is styled "the Word of the kingdom".
(2) That truth, like a seed, has a body. The earlier enshrinement of the saving truth was the letter of the Sinai covenant. This is called "the body of Moses" (see Jud Matthew 1:9). Now it comes to us in the Law from Zion. This is also called "the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Luke 24:47).
(3) The truth, like a seed, has a germinant principle. It is a living thing. The Spirit of God is the life of the Word. In the energy of the Spirit it is that "the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul."
2. The Sower.
(1) "The Sower is the Son of man." So we have the interpretation in the corresponding parable of the tares (see Matthew 13:37). The Son of man is the Word in person. The character of the Sower belongs to him, as he is the Author of all truth.
(2) The Son of man sows the Word of the kingdom by his servants.
(a) Apostles. These were immediately commissioned.
(b) Ministers. He provided for a succession of labourers separated to this great work.
(c) Disciples. A dispensation of the gospel is committed to every believer.
(3) As the Sower the Lord is gone forth. He has sown the truth in every age of the world. He carries the gospel into every land. He inseminates his truth in the mind of every child of man (John 1:9).
3. The soil.
(1) This is the heart of the hearer. The interpretation makes this also plain.
(2) He that made the seed made also the soil; and the Word and the heart are corelated. In the Bible there is food forevery faculty of the mind. It has science for the reason. It has poetry for the imagination. It has history for the understanding. It has prophecy for the anticipative faculties. It has doctrines for the faith. It has promises for the hope. It has assurances for the love.
(3) But the soil of the heart should be prepared for the reception of the seed of truth.
(a) It should be ploughed and harrowed and crushed with conviction and grief and sorrow for sin.
(b) It should also be weeded and cleaned by a thorough reformation and amendment.
(c) It should be dressed by the holy excitements of faith and hope.
(4) The reception depends upon the recipient. There are various kinds of reception. There are various degrees of reception.
II. AS TO THE YIELD.
1. The seed is wasted on the trampled soil.
(1) The allusion is to the beaten footpaths in cornfields. When the seed falls upon such a surface it cannot sink. It is therefore liable to be trodden underfoot (cf. Luke 8:5). It is also liable to be carried away by the birds. In his 'Travels in Palestine,' Buckingham has the following: "We ascended an elevated plain where husbandmen were sowing, and some thousands of starlings covered the ground, as the wild pigeons do in Egypt, laying a heavy contribution on the grain thrown into the furrows, which are not covered by harrowing as in Europe."
(2) The careless and unawakened are here described. They "hear the Word of the kingdom, but understand it not" (see Matthew 13:19); i.e. they do not lay it to heart. The defect is moral. Note: Satan has diminished power where the truth is understood in the heart.
(3) Understanding in the sense of intellectual apprehension is important. What our Lord means is to "understand with the heart," or to receive the truth in love. Note: The love of the truth is the soil suitable to the reception of the seed of the kingdom.
(4) The love or goodness received from the Lord through parents and otherwise in early life is often so trampled upon by the practical errors of later years that the heart becomes hardened into unconcern for eternal life.
(5) The seed that falls into such a heart is carried away by the devil, whose agents are compared to the "birds of the air." To forget the Creator, whom we were taught to "remember" in our youth, is one of the temptations of early manhood. Thoughts of light pleasures or of vain philosophy "catch away" that which pious hands have sown. The careless heart is the devil's thoroughfare.
2. The seed is wasted on superficial soil.
(1) The "rocky places where they had not much earth" are places where the rock lies under the scanty surface (see Luke 8:6). Such places represent the heart of the hearer who will at once receive the Word with gladness, but "having no root in himself, but dureth for a while" (Matthew 13:20, Matthew 13:21).
(2) The seed which quickly germinates in the slight but genial soil comes to a weak maturity quickly under favourable conditions. "In Palestine, during the seed time in November, the sky is generally overspread with clouds. The seed then springs in stony places. But when the sun dissipates the clouds, having outgrown its strength, it is quickly dried away" (Rosenmuller). Note: What is swallowed without manducation is not perfectly digested. The ready hearer is not always the best fruit bearer (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Many endure "for a season," but not "to the end" (cf. Matthew 10:22; Galatians 5:7).
(3) The failure is "because they have no root in themselves." They have no fixed principles in their judgments. They have no rooted habits in their good affections. "The lack is not in the soil, but in careful husbandry" (Trench). The shallow are often the first to receive the good, as they are also to receive the evil; but they are fickle and unreliable.
(4) If Nature has her zephyrs, dews, and tempered sunshine, so has she her floods, tempests, and Scorching heats. So has providence its "tribulations and persecutions." No heavenly plant can be reared without these. The plant that cannot endure them must perish.
3. The seed is wasted that falls among thorns.
(1) The soil here is neither deficient nor barren. That which can nourish briars can nourish something better. There are those who want not capacity, but culture. Not only must the wheat be sown; the thorns also must be rooted out. There are studious and exemplary persons who do not examine themselves in order to eradicate the evils of their neglected hearts.
(2) The neglect of the briar is fatal to the wheat. The overgrowth of "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" is often more disastrous than "tribulations and persecutions." Grace is more needed in prosperity than in adversity.
(3) "The deceitfulness of riches" is a significant phrase. It suggests:
(a) That riches promise more than they give.
(b) That men are readily deluded by them.
How plausible is the suggestion to one who is "making haste to be rich," that it is prudent to make provision for the future! They do not reflect that it is still more prudent to make provision for the future life. How plausible, that to increase wealth is to increase ability to do good! The effect upon the disposition to do good is left out of the question. The appetite for accumulating becomes more voracious and the liberality more stinted as men become more wealthy.
(4) Luke's version adds, "the pleasures of this life." Riches encourage the pursuit of these by furnishing the means for their gratification. Luke adds, "the lust of other things," such as desires after honour, distinction, show, and the praise of men.
(5) These things, so esteemed among men, are by Christ described as "briars," "thorns," "weeds."
4. But the Sower has encouragement.
(1) Some of the seed of the kingdom finds its way into "good and honest hearts" (see Luke 8:15)—hearts prepared by Divine grace (see Acts 16:14). Ground made good by ploughing weeding, and dressing.
(2) Note the gradation in respect to growth.
(a) In the careless and unawakened the effect is nil.
(b) The superficial readily accept the truth, profess it, but, discovering that the cross must go before the crown, renounce the crown to avoid the cross. "Swift to come, swift to go."
(c) In the third class the Word sinks deeper, and gives more promise by abiding "persecutions and tribulations." They fail before the subtle power of the world. Note: We may be better than our neighbours and yet fall short of heaven.
(d) But the fourth class receive the Word, retain it, and come to fruitfulness. The fruit-bearers are the genuine disciples (see John 15:8).
(3) Note now the gradation in respect to fruit bearing. The return is in tens—three tens, six tens, ten tens. Tithes of produce are the Lord's. Our riches are what we bring to God. Ten, including under it all units, the factors of all values, was by the ancients taken as a symbol of richness and fulness. As there are degrees of fruitfulness, so will there be degrees of reward.—J.A.M.
The reason of the parable.
After our Lord had discoursed in parables to the multitude assembled on the seashore, his disciples inquired of him why he used that mode of teaching, for hitherto he had spoken in simple and explicit language. The reply shows that the design was—
I. TO EVINCE THE SPIRITUALITY OF SAVING TRUTH.
1. It is a mystery to be revealed.
(1) The universe is dual, having material and spiritual complements. Between these there are wonderful correspondences. There are, therefore, similitudes in abundance in the visible to illustrate the spiritual.
(2) Yet we cannot, by natural reason unaided, attain to the knowledge of the spiritual. We know not how to apply the similitudes.
(3) Revelation from God is therefore necessary to supply this need. "The things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God."
(4) So this knowledge comes to us as a gift from God. "Unto you it is given," etc. (verse 11; see also 1 Kings 3:9, 1 Kings 3:12; Proverbs 2:6; John 3:27; James 1:17).
2. It is still mystery when revealed.
(1) In its doctrine. God manifested in the flesh is the great mystery of godliness. Connected with the incarnation are the awful mysteries of the passion and death of Christ. And with these, again, the resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost.
(2) In its experience. What a blessed mystery is the justification of a sinner before God! Then his adoption, regeneration, and sanctification. And finally his resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:51).
3. The revelation is blessed.
(1) Saving truth is the highest truth. The things of God are the grandest things. The Godward side of all things is their nobler side. The things of God are the things of the soul. These are as superior to the things of the body as mind is superior to matter.
(2) The gospel is the fuller revelation of the transcendent truth. Of this the "prophets and righteous men" of earlier times had glimpses which whetted their desire to see the brighter day (cf. Hebrews 11:40; 1 Peter 1:9-12). The "eyes" of the disciples were "blessed" in beholding the Person of Messiah (see Luke 2:30). Their "ears" were "blessed" in listening to his wonderful doctrine.
(3) In these privileges the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest of the prophets (see Matthew 11:11). And we are no less favoured than the first disciples. For there is still the personal manifestation of the Son of God to the believing heart (see John 14:21).
II. TO LIMIT THE REVELATION OF THE SAVING TRUTH.
1. It was to hide it from the false.
(1) The disciples perceived that in using the parable Jesus intended to conceal his meaning, and this prompted their question. The answer confirmed their suspicion.
(2) It also showed that it was a judgment upon unbelief. Jesus did not at first discourse in parables. He adopted this method after his message had been refused. The Pharisees had seen the grandest miracles; they had heard the noblest doctrine; they were only moved to rancour. Now he abandons them to their obduracy. Pharaoh for a long time hardened his heart; then God hardened it for him (see Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:20). A gross heart is a heart stupefied by sensual indulgence (see Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalms 58:4, Psalms 58:5).
(3) In the passage cited from Isaiah the prophet anticipated the judgments which came upon the Jewish nation in the Babylonish captivity (see Isaiah 6:9-12). But the prophecy also refers to the days of Messiah. This is suggested in the fact that it was uttered in connection with a vision of the glory of the Lord which was the glory of Christ (see John 12:39-41). This double or second fulfilment is recognized in the words, "in them is fulfilled" (verse 14), ἀναπληροῦται, "again fufilled." So the parabolic teaching of Jesus was a prelude to the abandonment of the nation to the terrible consequences of their unbelief.
(4) The Gentile also has his admonition. From him that hath not, uses not, God's gifts, the gifts will be withdrawn. They will not see, therefore they shall not see. They will not be converted, therefore they shall not be converted. God says this at the end of every sinner's life. Sometimes he says it before the sinner's life is ended.
2. It was to preserve it for the true.
(1) The parable encourages the diligent. The similitude is striking and pleasing, and arrests attention. It is a mystery, or secret thing. Its meaning is not on the surface. Inquisitiveness is excited. The prayerful heart has the help of the Spirit of truth. So the parable is "a shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful" (Henry).
(2) A man has what he uses. What he uses not he only seems to have (cf. Luke 8:18). What a man uses not is wasted; but in the using it becomes a part of himself. Its resultant is in his character. Thus it is preserved. He hath it.
(3) God increases his gifts to those who use them. Men act on the same principle. Truth attained is the key to truth concealed. For in all truth is unity and harmony. In the disciples of Christ is fulfilled the promised blessing, viz. that the eyes of them that see shall not be dim (Isaiah 32:3).
(4) Those who now "see through a glass darkly" shall in the world to come see "face to face." The noblest blessings are entailed upon the true understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.—J.A.M.
(See ante on Matthew 13:1-9.)—J.A.M.
The tares in the field.
The kingdom of heaven is the Church of God at once in heaven and on earth. This parable, like that of the sower, was afterwards explained to the disciples. As the exposition explains the parable, and the parable illustrates the exposition, it is fitting they should be considered together. From this parable we learn—
I. THAT THIS LIFE IS A SCENE OF TRIAL.
1. The field is the world.
(1) So we have it in the interpretation (Matthew 13:38). It is a wide field, whether viewed physically or morally. Still it is the Lord's domain. One day it will be universally fruitful to his glory (see Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
(2) Here we are now on our trial. This thought makes life solemn. The more so since there is no second probation.
(3) The issues are tremendous. In quality. In duration.
(4) How precious are the opportunities of the present!
2. The soil will nourish any seed.
(1) It will nourish the good. This, as interpreted in the parable of the sower, is the "Word of the kingdom" (Matthew 13:19). In the interpretation here it is those in whom that Word is incorporated' 'the sons of the kingdom" (Matthew 13:38). Note: The sons of the kingdom are distinguished by their relation to the truth.
(2) It will nourish the evil. The truth of God is opposed by the perversions of Satan. Those ruled by error are the "sons of the evil one." The wicked do not consider their spiritual lineage (see John 8:44; Ephesians 2:2).
(3) Note: Here are only two classes. There are orders of good, and there are orders of evil. But if the seed be not good, then it is evil. To which of these classes do you belong?
3. There are two seed sowers.
(1) The Son of man, as in the parable of the sower, is one. The seed he sows is good. He is the incarnation of Infinite good. Christ sowed this good seed in person when he preached. He still sows it by his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).
(2) The enemy, not mentioned in this capacity in the parable of the sower, is the other. The devil is the enemy of Christ (Matthew 13:39; see also Genesis 3:15). So is he the enemy of the sons of Jesus. The enemy is the anti-Messiah, possessed of the devil, as was Judas Iscariot (cf. Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
(3) Note the differences in the sowing. The Son of man sows openly in the day. The evil one works in the darkness of night. "While men slept" (Matthew 13:25). Satan takes every advantage of our drowsiness, indolence, lukewarmness. The approaches of evil are stealthy.
(4) Note what follows. The evil one "went his way." He takes care not to be seen in his work. He can trust his weeds to grow. "When the blade was up." Beware of the seeds of evil. They may be small, but they grow.
II. THAT THIS SCENE OF TRIAL PRESENTS DIFFICULT PROBLEMS.
1. There is the origin of moral evil.
(1) It puzzled the servants to see the darnel, or the bastard wheat, spring up among the good wheat (Matthew 13:27). We may puzzle ourselves with many things.
(2) Christ disclaims this authorship. He owns to sowing the good seed. He is infinitely good. Evil he can neither be nor do.
(3) He fixes this authorship upon Satan. He is the enemy alike of God and man. Further than this in the solution of the question of the origin of evil we cannot go.
(4) Note: The personality of the devil is here asserted. The author of moral evil must be a moral, and therefore an intelligent, agent.
2. There is the forbearance of God towards evil.
(1) This also puzzled the servants. "Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?" "Wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Luke 9:54-56). Zeal is commendable only when it is discreet.
(2) God tolerates the evil for the sake of the good.
(a) Were he to root all the wicked out of the earth, the population would be so reduced that the wild beasts could not be kept under.
(b) The graces of the good are exercised by the toleration of the wicked.
(c) So the grace of God is exemplified in supporting the good amongst the evil.
(3) The wicked are tolerated to render it possible for the grace of God to convert them.
3. There is the difference between discipline and persecution.
(1) Persecution is an evil against which zeal must be guarded. Men may think they do God service when they make havoc of his Church (cf. Acts 8:3; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13).
(2) The darnel so resembles the wheat that it may be mistaken for it. So may the unbeliever be mistaken for the believer, the hypocrite for the true man. So, on the contrary, some saints are so clumsy and awkward that they may be mistaken for deceivers. Where there is a doubt let the subject have the benefit. The wheat rather than the darnel has generally suffered from persecution.
(3) But the toleration of darnel, which resembles wheat, is no reason for the toleration of thorns, which resemble it not (cf. Matthew 13:22; 1 Corinthians 5:13). The teaching of our parable is not directed against discipline, but against persecution.
(4) Note: Our Lord gives us no authority to expect a perfect Church in this age. The objection against joining a Church because it is imperfect is unreasonable.
III. THAT THE GREAT JUDGMENT WILL VINDICATE THE WAYS OF GOD.
1. Then will he separate the evil from the good.
(1) Angels will be employed in this service. They are superior to the prejudices of mortals. They act also in the presence and under the direction of the omniscient Son of man.
(2) There are no masks in heaven. Where no evil is there is nothing to conceal. Society is at its best when confidence has no restraint.
(3) Masks are torn off in hell. Holy angels will unmask the wicked. What a spectacle will be then displayed! Society is at its worst when mistrust has no restraint.
2. Then will he punish the wicked.
(1) The tares are bound in bundles. Is this a classification according to character? Are atheists to be bundled together? Blasphemers? Epicures? Persecutors? Hypocrites?
(2) Is the bundling promiscuous? Will the scientist be bound in the same bundle with the sot?
(3) "Bind them in bundles to burn them." The Son of man "shall cast them into the furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42). What a prison! What an imprisonment!
(4) Despair has its woeful expression. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:42).
3. Then will he reward the good.
(1) They will enjoy security. "Gather the wheat into my barn" (Matthew 13:30; Psalms 50:5). Security from wind and weather. Beyond the mutations of probation.
(2) They will enjoy distinction. "In the kingdom of their Father." "Now we are the sons of God." Then will the grandeur of this sonship appear (cf. John 20:17; 1 John 3:2). The palace. The throne (Revelation 3:21).
(3) They will be invested with glory. "Shall shine forth as the sun" (cf. Judges 5:31; Daniel 12:3). In the glory of purity like the "Sun of Righteousness." In glorified bodies like that of Jesus. They shall not "burn" like the wicked, but "shine."
(4) Who hath ears, let him hear how tenderly God cares for the good.—J.A.M.
Parable and prophecy.
The spirit of prophecy in ancient times enshrined itself in parables. The prophecy of Balaam, accordingly, is called "his parable" (Numbers 23:18). Under the parable of two eagles and a vine Ezekiel shows forth the judgments of God upon Jerusalem for revolting from Babylon to Egypt (Ezekiel 18:1-32.; see also Ezekiel 24:3; Micah 2:4-6; Habakkuk 2:6). So are the parables of Christ prophetic. Observe—
I. THAT JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES IN PURSUANCE OF PROPHECY.
1. The end of that teaching was predicted.
(1) The end was to hide the saving truth from those who proved themselves unworthy of it. Our Lord did not assume the parable until his plainer teaching, with its miraculous demonstrations, had been wickedly rejected.
(2) This judgment upon the proud, obstinate, and sensual people was foretold (cf. Isaiah 6:9-12; see homily on Isa 6:10 -17).
(3) The parable, at once, so wisely enshrined the saving truth as richly to reward the diligence of the prayerful. To these the parables of Christ are the utterance of "things hidden from the foundation of the world" (cf. Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26).
2. So was the means to the end.
(1) Asaph, to whom the authorship of the psalm cited by Matthew in the text is ascribed, was a "seer," or prophet (see 2 Chronicles 29:30). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he predicted that Messiah should speak to the people in parables. For the psalm itself contains no parable.
(2) In uttering these "dark sayings," Messiah was to "establish a testimony in Jacob," and to appoint "a law in Israel" (Psalms 78:5). These are distinct from the testimony and Law from Sinai, which were given long before the days of Asaph or David. What, then, can they be but the law destined to emanate from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem? (cf. Isaiah 2:3).
(3) The psalmist, moreover, speaks of these as to be "given to the generation to come;" literally, "the latter generation," or the generation of the latter days.
(4) In this mysterious teaching, therefore, Jesus exhibited another mark of his Messiahship. The unbelieving Jews seek in vain for any mark of Messiahship which is not verified in him.
II. THAT THE PARABLES BEFORE US MAY BE VIEWED AS PROPHECIES.
1. They describe the gospel in its feeble beginning.
(1) How apparently insignificant is the grain of mustard seed! So apparently insignificant was Jesus in his feeble infancy; in the meanness of his circumstances; in the social grade of his few followers. Fishermen of Galilee! "Hath any of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees?"
(2) How apparently insignificant is the lump of leaven as compared with the lump of meal! How are these words of Jesus uttered in the air of Galilee so to multiply as to reverberate in every human ear the world over? How is this company of fishermen to preach the gospel to every creature?
2. They describe the gospel in its secret power.
(1) The grain of mustard seed is small; but it is a seed. It has in it an unlimited power of growth and multiplication. So Jesus has in himself illimitable resources. See his power flashing from him in miracles. Physical. Moral.
(2) The "little leaven," also, possesses wonderful potency. The word of Christ differs from every other word in that it carries in it the energy of omnipotence. During the first year of the ministry of Jesus we read of "seventy disciples." Note: They were not seventy units, but seventy preachers. In three years "the number of the names was one hundred and twenty." After the outpouring of the Spirit the disciples multiplied by thousands (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4).
(3) The gospel has not only won its converts by millions, but it has demolished the idolatrous systems of the classic nations. It is now undermining the colossal systems of the East. It is in the van of all true science and civilization.
3. They describe the gospel in its ultimate triumph.
(1) These parables do not predict that the visible Church by the gospel is to convert the whole world before Christ comes again. For this would oppose his own teaching, as when he advises us that at his coming the moral state of the world will sadly resemble that of the antediluvians in the days of Noah (see Luke 17:24-30). Paul also declares that "in the last days perilous times shall come;" that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:1, 2 Timothy 3:13).
(2) The interval of the seed lying in the soil is that portion of the parable of the mustard seed to which may be compared the period through which we are passing, extending from the first to the second advent of Christ. So with the leaven. Leaven works secretly in the meal for a long time before its power is visible in a universal commotion. As yet the kingdom of God is without observation. It comes secretly in the heart without ostentation or display.
(3) The parables carry us beyond the time of the coming of Christ. They carry us forward to the millennium, in which season the grain of mustard seed will have become a great tree, in which the birds of the air—all nations and peoples—will find rest and shelter (cf. Psalms 80:9, Psalms 80:11; Isaiah 60:1, Isaiah 60:2; Amos 9:15). Then will the work of the leaven be visible in the whole lump. "We cannot consider these words, the whole, less than a prophecy that the leaven shall yet pervade all nations and purify all life" (Trench). Note: The gospel, like leaven, works silently and insensibly in the heart (see Psalms 119:11). The Word, like fermenting leaven, is quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It works "until the whole is leavened," or brought into similitude to itself. Leaven does not work in corn unground. So neither does the gospel work on the unbroken heart. The similes in these parables are encouraging to those who work for Christ and souls. The same gospel which now converts the individual believer will convert the race in the coming age.—J.A.M.
The tares in the field.
(See ante, on Matthew 13:24-30.)—J.A.M.
The chief good.
The parable of the treasure and that of the pearl as they are here together may well be considered together, for the subject is the same. The repetition emphasizes the importance and value of the gospel. These parables set before us—
I. THE CHIEF GOOD.
1. What is it?
(1) It is a "treasure." The allusion here may be to a pot of money or a casket of jewels "hidden in a field;" or possibly to a mine of precious ore. It is the "pearl of great price"—a stone of incomparable size, purity, and beauty. But these are only figures.
(2) Christ unites in himself all qualities of excellence and value. He is the King of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Luke 17:20-25). The monarch is the representative of the kingdom's wealth and glory (cf. John 1:16; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:3).
(3) In him are the treasures of pardons for the guilty, tie has paid the great price of our redemption. In him also are the riches of purity for the believer. Purity is the title to the riches of the heaven of everlasting glory.
2. Why is it hidden?
(1) For the rousing of our faculties and quickening of our diligence (see Proverbs 2:1-7). This stimulus is an important factor in our moral education. The miner becomes skilful in mining. So the merchantman in estimating the quality and value of pearls.
(2) The diligence thus called forth enhances the value of the treasure. We value things according to the price we will pay. Also according to the price we have paid. The endurance of our faith is intimately associated with the thoroughness of our repentance.
(3) They are hidden to conceal them from the unworthy.
(a) Lest they should insult them. The swine will trample on the pearl, and turn and rend the merchantman.
(b) As a judgment upon their brutishness (cf. Matthew 13:10-15; Isaiah 6:9).
3. From whom are they hidden?
(1) From the wise and understanding, viz. in their own conceits (cf. Matthew 11:25-27). Not many of our sophs are called.
(2) From the self-righteous. From the Pharisees, who were notably of this order, especially it was that Christ taught in parables to hide the saving truth.
(3) From the sensual. The treasure of the gospel is spiritual. It is, therefore, to be discerned by the spiritual senses. The grosser sensualism of the flesh blinds the finer sense of the spirit (cf. John 14:9).
(4) From the worldly. They can only see the surface of the field. A nobleman once gave a celebrated actress a Bible, telling her at the same time that there was a treasure in it. She, thinking he meant religion, laid the Bible aside. She died, and all she had was sold. The person who bought the Bible, on turning over its leaves, found a five hundred pound note in it. Had the actress read that book she might not only have found the note, but the "Pearl of great price."
II. ITS DISCOVERY.
1. Where is it found!
(1) In this present world. "The field is the world" (Matthew 13:38).
(a) In that part of the world called Palestine the treasure was once hidden. Now the Pearl is to be found wherever the merchantman with sufficient diligence may seek for it (see John 4:21-24).
(b) In this present world we are probationers for eternity. If we miss the opportunities of this probation we have no promise of a second. There are no treasures of salvation for the richest of the rich men in hell (see Luke 16:26).
(2) In the Word of God. It is not to be found in nature. God's plan of salvation is not written upon the ethereal dome in the fire of the stars. It is not uttered by the tongue of thunder. We neither hear it in the roar of the sea nor in the whispers of the groves. It is the theme of holy revelation (see John 5:39).
(3) In the ordinances of religion. These are fittingly called "means of grace." In them the Word of revelation is read, expounded, preached. The Holy Spirit of inspiration is present. There by his own appointment (cf. Exodus 29:43; Matthew 18:20).
(4) In the believing heart. The blessings of salvation are revealed to faith (see Romans 10:4-10).
2. How is it to be found?
(1) Sometimes it may be found without seeking. The gospel found the Gentiles when they sought not for it (see Romans 10:19-21). Sinners in the mid-career of madness have been arrested by a word.
(2) It is always to be found by seeking. The miner may infallibly strike upon this lode. The merchantman need never miss the Pearl of great price (cf. Matthew 7:7, Matthew 7:8).
(3) The purpose of the seeker must be simple. To the "babes" is revealed the wisdom hidden from the "wise and understanding" (Matthew 11:25).
III. ITS EFFECT.
1. It fills the soul with joy.
(1) It brings the greatest relief. We have the treasure which discharges all our heavy liabilities to God. It delivers us from liability to the damnation of hell.
(2) It assures the highest hope. For what hope is higher than the hope of heaven? Holiness is the qualification and assurance for that hope.
(3) It is the purest joy. What joy can be purer than the love of God?
2. It inspires a holy vigilance.
(1) The finder of the hidden treasure hides it still until he can make it his own. Note: The parable does not pronounce one way or another upon the ethical question as to how far a man may take advantage of the ignorance of his neighbour. The teaching of the simile is a commendation of vigilance. The true treasure is in everybody's field. One is not deprived of it in order that another may be enriched. But the unbelieving are ready to barter for folly that which the wise will buy at any cost.
(2) But is it not the duty of the Christian to confess Christ? Undoubtedly. But how can a man confess him before he has him? The treasure is hidden only while it is in the prospect of possession.
3. It begets the true spirit of sacrifice.
(1) The wise man buys the field; then the treasure becomes his.
(2) But what does he give for it? "All that he has" (see Matthew 19:16-22).
(3) But what has a man before he finds Christ? Nothing but sin. What, then, does he "sell"? Simply sin—all his sin. Blessed riddance!
(4) What, then, does he gain? Christ. In Christ he has everything worth possessing. Blessed exchange!—J.A.M.
The import of this parable is similar to that of the tares, though perhaps of wider application. The theatre of the earlier parable is the land, which in prophecy designates the Hebrew people, while the sea, in the latter, points to the Gentile nations (cf. Isaiah 5:30; Daniel 7:2, Daniel 7:3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:1, Revelation 17:15). The kingdom of heaven was first offered to the Jews, and when they rejected it, it was then carried to the Gentiles (cf. Matthew 21:43; Acts 13:46, Acts 13:47). Note—
I. THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS ARE FISHERS OF MEN.
1. To this service they are called.
(1) Some of the first disciples were literally fishermen (Matthew 4:17-22). The distinction of Christ's servants is spiritual rather than social.
(2) From the lower they were promoted to the higher fishing grounds. In calling them to become fishers of men Jesus said practically, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net." Their call was a parable, a prophecy, and a sermon.
(3) Jesus found the fishermen diligent in their humble calling and promoted them. It is a dishonour to the gospel to send the weaklings of a family into the Church.
2. For this service they were equipped.
(1) Christ gave them his dragnet. This is the "Word of the kingdom." This is a dragnet that sweeps all before it.
(2) He taught them how to use it. They heard his preaching. They went forth under his commission and preached.
(3) His almighty energy went with them. The physical miracles they wrought exemplified the corresponding moral power of the truth they preached.
(4) He gave them remarkable pledges of future success. Conspicuous amongst these was the miraculous draught of fishes. That was a prophetic anticipation of the work on the Day of Pentecost.
II. THE MEN THEY GATHER ARE "OF EVERY KIND."
1. The good are enclosed in the Church.
(1) These were the fish recognized as clean according to the Law, Viz. such as have both "fins and scales" (see Le Matthew 11:9, Matthew 11:10). By means of their fins they rise to the surface and swim in the purer water and under the clearer light of the heavens. The metallic lustre of their scales suggests the "armour of light."
(2) Anciently, the clean creatures represented the Hebrew people, who were the people of the covenant, in contradistinction to the unclean Gentiles, who were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, being without hope and atheists in the world."
(3) Now they stand for the morally good as opposed to the wicked. "For in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him."
(4) Of the good among men, as among fishes, there are many varieties. Religion does not destroy individuality. But they have the common marks of Christian discipleship.
2. The bad also are included.
(1) these are represented by the unclean fish; those without fins or scales, as the eel, whose habits are foul, writhing in the mud. We say of cunning men that they "wriggle like eels." They may have fins like the shark, but if they have not also scales they are unclean. Men of rapacious dispositions we still call "sharks."
(2) Anciently, the unclean creatures denoted the "sinners of the Gentiles," as opposed to the "saints" or "holy people" of Israel.
(3) Now, since national distinctions in religion are abolished, the unclean are the unbelievers of every nation, Jew as well as Gentile.
3. The visible Church is therefore imperfect.
(1) The world is a vast sea, and the sons of men are "in it things creeping innumerable both small and great" (Psalms 104:25). Men in their natural state are "like fishes in the sea, and moving things that have no ruler over them" (Habakkuk 1:14).
(2) From this mass multitudes are gathered into the net of the Church. Some of the evil becomes transformed by true conversion. Others are converted only in semblance.
(3) This mixed state of things is evident in wide Christendom. It is no less real, though not equally evident, amongst communicants.
III. THE GOOD AND THE WICKED ARE DESTINED TO A FINAL SEPARATION.
1. The wicked will be separated to destruction.
(1) They are "severed," separated with violence, as by cutting or rending. They will with reluctance yield to this final separation from the good and from their hopes.
(2) They will be severed by the "angels." The angels of heaven can distinguish between the hypocrite and the true man, which the angels of the Church cannot do. As the tares among the wheat in the Jewish field, so are the bad fish among the good in the Gentile net (cf. Matthew 13:28-30, Matthew 13:41).
(3) "And shall cast them into the furnace of fire." This is in allusion to the Eastern punishment of burning alive. If figures do not come up to the reality, the punishment of the sinner must be fearful in the extreme. Note: The furnace of fire is reserved for unworthy members of Churches.
(4) "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The agony of despair. The distress of impotent resentment. This, after the burning, shows that the burning of the wicked is not their consumption. Destruction, in Scripture, differs from annihilation.
2. The good will be separated to salvation.
(1) Salvation from the associations of the wicked. Those associations are now uncongenial. They are contaminating. They are damaging to the better reputation. In the new earth there will be "no more sea" (Revelation 21:1). There will be no more Gentiles in wickedness; all will be Israelites in goodness.
(2) The good will be "gathered into vessels." Are not these the antitheses of the "bundles" into which the wicked are gathered, as in the corresponding parable of the tares? Does not this suggest order and class in heavenly society?
(3) The time of this separation is when the net shall be "filled." The gospel must first fulfil its commission in witnessing to all the world (cf. Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 24:14).—J.A.M.
Matthew 13:51, Matthew 13:52
This is the last of a connected series of parables. It was intended to emphasize and fix upon the minds of the disciples the lessons of those already spoken. It has also precious lessons of its own.
I. CHRIST IS THE HOUSEHOLDER.
1. He is the Head of a spiritual family.
(1) He is the second Adam (cf. Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Ephesians 5:31, Ephesians 5:32).
(2) He is the Founder of the new creation. "The Father of the everlasting age" (cf. Isaiah 9:6; Colossians 1:15; Revelation 3:14).
(3) His children are the sons of God. They are the children of the everlasting covenant. "Children of Abraham's faith."
(4) They are the "children of God, being children of the resurrection." Spiritually risen with Christ already. Entitled to the better resurrection of the last day.
2. He has an ample treasure for their maintenance.
(1) "His treasure." The allusion is to the householder's store for the maintenance of his establishment.
(2) The bountifulness of the store is expressed in the phrase, "things new and old." The old produce is not exhausted when the fruits of the new year are gathered in (cf. Le Matthew 26:9, Matthew 26:10).
(3) The stores of Christ are the infinite treasure of his wisdom and knowledge. These he derived not from human sources. He never studied under the doctors of the Hebrew colleges. Yet even at the early age of twelve he could astonish them. He drew his resources from heaven (cf. John 3:36; Colossians 1:19).
(4) This store is for his children first (see Ephesians 1:6-8; Colossians 2:9, Colossians 2:10). The servants also have their nourishment. The dogs may be thankful for the crumbs. The world is indebted to the gospel for the better elements of its civilization.
II. HE BRINGETH FORTH OUT OF HIS TREASURE THINGS NEW AND OLD.
1. He discovers a monarchy, in humility.
(1) This was a new thing. The Jews expected the King Messiah to appear after the type of Solomon in all his glory. They had yet to learn that the "Greater than Solomon" is Jesus in his humility. The dignity and glory of suffering had never been so seen.
(2) Yet was this thing of the New Testament also in the Old. Messiah must first come in humiliation for purposes of redemption before he can appear, as he will in his second advent, "without sin unto salvation" (see Luke 24:25-27).
(3) In the depths of his humility he asserts Divine claims. He claims to be the Son of God (see John 10:36). To be the Lord of the sabbath day. To be David's Lord though David's Son (Matthew 22:41-46). To have power on earth to forgive sins.
2. He proclaims a spiritual kingdom.
(1) This was a new thing. Secular kingdoms were old enough. So familiar were these that the Jews expected Messiah to establish a "kingdom under the Whole heaven" after their type (see Daniel 7:27).
(2) What, then, was their astonishment, while they were dreaming of release from the Roman yoke, and ruling the Gentiles with a rod of iron, to be told that the kingdom "cometh not with observation;" that it is a spiritual kingdom "within," in the heart?
(3) What was their astonishment when they heard the requisites which made it hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom?
(4) When they heard that love is the principle of the kingdom? Not only love supreme to God, but love also to the brotherhood. Love, moreover, to our neighbour, which is every man. Love even to our enemies. Such love as constrains us to bless when we are cursed, to requite hatred with benevolence, to answer persecution with supplication (see Matthew 5:43-45).
3. In his gospel he fulfils the Law.
(1) That Messiah should dignify and perfect the Law of Moses was nothing new to the Jews. They looked for this. But the manner of its accomplishment astonished them.
(2) They did not see that in his death he should become the autitype of all the sacrifices; that summing up in himself all their virtues, and infinitely more, they should disappear, and henceforth be seen only in his cross.
(3) It was new that henceforth the ablutions of Leviticus should be seen in the gift of the Holy Ghost.
(4) It was new that the gospel should so bring out the spirit of the "Law of commandments contained in ordinances" as to render obsolete the letter.
(5) Yet all these things were as old as the Law itself, and were likewise testified by the prophets (cf. Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:21; Romans 10:4; Romans 15:8; Galatians 3:24).
III. HE ENCOURAGES THE SONS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.
1. He instructs them in his wisdom.
(a) The doctrines of his gospel.
(b) The evidences of his religion.
(c) The practical ends for which it is instituted.
Without Divine illumination no man can attain to this knowledge.
(2) The question, "Have ye understood all these things?" suggests:
(a) That it is the will of Christ that those who read and hear his Word should understand it. This is an encouragement to study.
(b) That Divine truths must not be lightly passed over.
(c) That he is ready to explain to his disciples what may be obscure. This is an encouragement to prayer.
(3) The answer, "Yea, Lord," shows that the explanations which the disciples received of the parables of the sower and of the tares opened to them the meaning of the other parables. Truth is the key to truth (see Proverbs 8:8, Proverbs 8:9; Proverbs 14:6).
2. He commends their proficiency.
(1) He styled them scribes. The scribe among the Jews was a person versed in the letter of the Old Testament. Some of them had knowledge also in its spirit. Ezra was "a ready scribe in the Law of Moses." He "prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord" (Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:10).
(2) But the disciples of Jesus were more. They were made "disciples to the kingdom of heaven." Herein they were greater than the greatest of the old prophets (see Matthew 11:11). Note: He who undertakes to preach Christ should know Christ. A minister may be a linguist, a mathematician, a scientist, a politician, but unless he is "instructed in the kingdom of heaven" he is not qualified (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 3:17).
(3) Like his Lord:
(a) He must have a "treasure."
(b) From it he must" bring forth."
He must not bury his talents. A good pastor must not, like a miser, hoard his knowledge. He must not, like a merchant, make gain of it.
(4) He too must bring forth "things new and old." No man can understand the Old Testament but by means of the New. The Old Testament is the best commentary upon the New. Old truths should come forth with new expression, and with new affection and emotion.—J.A.M.
"When Jesus had finished these parables"—this cycle or system of parables, affording a general view of the conditions of the Church under the new dispensations—"he departed" from Capernaum. "And coming into his own country," arriving at Nazareth across the lake (see Luke 4:16), he taught the Nazarenes in their synagogue. They had formerly rejected him, and now he receives from them no better treatment. In the narrative before us we see evidence of—
I. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF PREJUDICE.
1. The Nazarenes were astonished at his wisdom.
(1) His parables, the fame of which had probably reached them, evinced it. Not only do they open the mysteries of spiritual wealth. They prophesied also things to come. A fool could no more utter a parable than a cripple gracefully dance (see Proverbs 26:7).
(2) It was evinced in his teaching in their synagogue. Not only was his doctrine astonishing, but also the manner in which he was wont to confound the doctors when they ventured to question him.
2. So were they astonished at his miracles.
(1) He had, probably, formerly wrought miracles among them. The fame of his wonderful works at Capernaum had certainly reached them (see Luke 4:23) They had ocular proofs of his power in that he now "laid his hand upon a few sick folk, and healed them".
(2) The wisdom and power of Jesus should have conducted them to a believing recognition of his Person. They rested in astonishment. Astonishment is no substitute for faith. It can consist with prejudices. Miracles may confirm, but they cannot produce, faith. Faith is of the heart. It is in the honest heart from God.
3. They rejected the evidence of both. Prejudice has its reasons, but they refute themselves.
(1) The Nazarenes rejected the claims of Jesus because they did not see whence he derived his wisdom and power. The rational conclusion would have been that if he did not receive them from the doctors of the Law or from any human source, then he must have had them from heaven.
(2) They objected that he was the "carpenter's Son." But the carpenter was of the house and lineage of David (see Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:27). And Messiah must be the "Son of David" in order to satisfy the prophets.
(3) They objected that "his mother was called Mary." She was of too humble a station to have any splendid title. Yet was this Mary by descent a princess of the great house of David. Moreover, she was the mother of the Son of God. Mary's miraculous conception seems to have been unknown to them. Prejudices are fostered by ignorance.
(4) They could name his brothers, and his sisters they knew, though they did not deem them worthy of being named. Note: Those who should know Christ best are often most ignorant of him. "Mean and prejudiced spirits are apt to judge of men by their education, and to inquire more into their rise than into their reasons" (Henry). "His sisters, are they not all with us?" Note: How thoroughly is Christ one "with us"—Immanuel!
II. ITS DIREFUL CONSEQUENCES.
1. It hardened the Nazarenes in their unbelief.
(1) "They were offended in him." Their astonishment was their offence. Prejudice is offended in wisdom, and resists the demonstration of power. Superior merit is envied, and envy turns the knowledge it has to the disadvantage of the envied.
(2) If we approach the Scriptures in a cavilling humour we shall remain in ignorance, and become hardened in unbelief.
2. It exposed them to the reproof of Christ.
(1) "Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." Note: A prophet should have honour. A man of God is a great man. The Son of God, how great!
(2) But familiarity breeds contempt. The contempt a prophet experiences abroad is nothing to that he experiences at home. Even Columbus, when meditating the discovery of America, had to seek patrons out of his own country.
3. It led to their abandonment.
(1) "And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Unbelief is an impediment to the performance of miracles. Hence the question, "Dost thou believe that I am able to do this?" "Unbelief is a sin that locks up the heart of a sinner, and binds up the hand of the Saviour" (Flavel).
(2) Christ did not judge it suitable to obtrude his miracles upon the Nazarenes. "A few sick folk" among them had faith to be healed. "Many" remained in their misery "because of their unbelief."
(3) "The reason why mighty works are not wrought now is not that the faith is everywhere planted, but that unbelief everywhere prevails" (Wesley). "All things are possible" to the faith of promise.
(4) Soon after this Jesus finally abandoned the Nazarenes. Their pride and envy and resentment became their desolation and destruction. And those who now reject the claims of Christ are even less excusable than they, since they despise the additional evidence of his resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The reason for the use of parables.
It is not sufficiently observed that our Lord adopted the parabolic style only after he had been teaching for some time. His earlier discourses are full of illustrations, and they set truth in paradoxical sentences which excite thought and inquiry; but the parabolic was a new method of hiding truth for a while, and from some, which was called for by certain results attending Christ's teachings. It should be clearly seen that the parable is designed to wrap truth up so that it may be kept safe, but be hidden from the many for the present; and uncovered and brought to light, by the spiritually minded now, and for all by and by. The previous chapters of Matthew have shown what a divided feeling was growing up, even in Galilee, concerning Christ. Some, indeed, held fast their hope in him; but the official Pharisees took a decided position against him, and they influenced very many; even our Lord's own relations had joined the distrustful party. Jesus was influenced by these conditions. He wanted to warn, correct, and reprove; but these people would only turn to evil everything he said, and become more embittered against him if he spoke out plainly. So he wrapped truth of warning and correction up in parables, which would carry his meaning without his actually speaking it out. Three reasons for the use of parables may be given.
I. One reason was related to his immediate disciples: IT ENABLED HIM TO CONTINUE HIS TEACHING OF THEM. A chief part of our Lord's work was preparing the apostles for their future work. And he did this not only by direct teachings, but also by examples of teaching. But opposition might have stopped these examples if our Lord had not changed his style and adopted the parabolic.
II. One reason was related to his ordinary congregations: IT ENABLED HIM TO ADAPT HIMSELF MORE PRECISELY TO THEIR CAPACITIES. It is quite possible that our Lord found the paradoxical style of the sermon on the mount misused, and therefore tried the pictorial style of the parable, which is so eminently suited to the child-minded. All who teach such know how they are helped by being shown what things are like. By them principles are grasped when they are illustrated in incidents, or painted in pictures.
III. One reason was related to his enemies: IT ENABLED HIM VERY SEVERELY TO REPROVE THEM WITHOUT GIVING OPEN OFFENCE. No one could take exception to our Lord's beautiful descriptions and incidents, but men with bad consciences quickly perceived that he spake the parables against them.—R.T.
The responsibility of the hearer.
The "parable of the sower" might with equal appropriateness be called the "parable of the soil." The point of it is not so much what the sower did, as what the soil did, and what the soil was. In each case good seed was scattered. In each case we are set thinking of the capacity of the soil, and of the manner in which it dealt with the seed. And this fact comes out forcibly to view: only when the soil was deep and soft and clean—well ploughed, well harrowed, well weeded—could even that good seed yield its thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF OUR LOUD AS A TEACHER. Compare him with the rabbinical moralists of his time. It is sometimes inconsiderately said that our Lord's moral teachings were not new. Of course they were not. How could they be? What new moral principles and duties can any teacher announce? New morals could not be true morals, for morals are the possession of humanity from man's earliest relations with God and with his fellows. You will find in our Lord's teachings some things new, some things old, and some things skilfully adapted to the needs of the day. Stalker says the teaching of Jesus "consisted of numerous sayings, every one of which contained the greatest possible amount of truth in the smallest possible compass, and was expressed in language so concise and pointed as to stick in the memory like an arrow." But observe that even Christ's Divine teachings were a partial failure, when men were not "prepared to hear."
II. THE RESPONSE MEN MADE TO OUR LORD'S TEACHINGS. It surprises us that all men did not receive him. But the fact is that our Lord shared the common experience of all teachers, and proved a direct blessing to only a few. Some of the people took offence at Christ's teaching. He did not say what they had been accustomed to hear just as they had been accustomed to hear it. He did not come forth with the proper approval of the ecclesiastical officials. He often spoke too plainly. He came right home to them. He made them see sins which they had tried hard to cover over and hide. He read their hearts, and made them feel uncomfortable. Some found him too advanced a Teacher for them. Some were impulsive, and became disciples at once, but could stand no testing and strain. The moral and spiritual results of our Lord's ministry depended on the moods of the people. The common people heard him gladly. The learned people questioned and criticized, and so gained no blessing. Jesus was to men as men were to him. All depended on the soil.—R.T.
Seeding the earthly fields to get seed for the heavenly fields.
See the farmer. The ground is provided for him and prepared for him. He cannot alter his surroundings and conditions. His chief aim is good seeding, and for the sake of the seed he wants he is anxious to secure good flowers. His harvest is largely, and ideally it is altogether, a gathering of seed for next year's sowing. We are familiar with the idea that the present life is our sowing time, and the next life our harvest time. But this view is less familiar. The present life is the growing and the preparing of the seeds which are to be sown in the fields of the next life. Every plant has this for its object, to seed the fields next year.
I. OUR EARTH LIFE IS THE HARVEST FIELD IN WHICH WE BOTH SOW AND REAP. The field is prepared for us. We cannot choose or make our own particular place and work. Our age, family, nation, circumstances, abilities, and disabilities are all arranged for us. What we have to do is to sow our own particular field, and exactly what we sow we shall reap, a fulness of the same thing. Youth is the time of sowing; early manhood is the time of growing. The full maturity of life is our reaping time. The man in middle life has attained the character which is the seed-result of the spring sowing and the summer growing. He will not be very different as long as he lives.
II. THE HARVEST OF THIS LIFE PROVIDES THE SEED CORN FOR THE NEXT LIFE. Remember, every plant is working for next year. The flower or the fruit of this year is not its end; the seed is its end. And cultured, finished, high-toned, spiritual character is the seed which we are to have ready for the next harvest field. The eternal ages may prove to be successions of harvest fields, in which, like the plants, we shall be ever sowing and maturing for the next age's seeding; ever trying to secure better, worthier, character seeds.
III. THERE IS MUCH TO BE DONE WITH THE SEED CORN, WHEN IT IS MATURE, BEFORE IT IS ALTOGETHER FIT FOR THE NEXT YEAR'S SOWING. It seems as if a piece of life were left out, and we ended it with manhood. But there is a space between full manhood and decay. That piece of life should be the weathering, winnowing, cleansing of the seed corn character, ready for the eternal fields. Weathering, or exposing to the sun and wind of prosperity. Winnowing, or getting rid of the useless by adversity. Cleansing, or getting free from the mischievous by culture. Fully ripe and well prepared, God bears us off to seed his eternal fields.—R.T.
Evil and good only together for a time.
In every parable we should expect to find three things.
1. General hints in relation to the kingdom, common to many parables.
2. Special points of description necessary to the completion of the picture, but not to be unduly pressed to yield a meaning.
3. A particular aspect of truth, for the sake of which the parable is specially given.
I. THE SALIENT POINTS OF THIS PARABLE.
1. Our inability to form perfect judgment of individuals now.
2. The duty of accepting profession now, and leaving perfect judgment for God's future.
3. The distinction between good and evil is vital; there is really no possible confusion between them.
4. The distinction between good and bad persons will one day be clearly seen.
5. The temptation to use outward physical force to accomplish the objects of the Church must be steadfastly resisted.
II. THE ONE POINT CALLING FOR PARTICULAR ATTENTION. It is the fact of life that evil and good do now grow together. Illustrate weeds and flowers; poison and food; fierce and gentle animals; good and bad men in every association. This is true of Christian worship, and even of the Church. Illustrate Epistle to Corinthians, which deals with a wicked man in the Church. Our Lord assumes the fact when he says, "By their fruits ye shall know them." It would be an incomprehensible fact if this were our only life. We can a little understand it, if we see God's purpose to morally test every man. Everything in life is arranged for testing purposes. Disposition is tried at home. Character is tried in business. Principles are tried in society. Evil has everywhere the chance of mastering good if it can. Suppose evil people were now put all by themselves; there would be no hope of their deliverance from evil. Suppose the good people were put all by themselves; they would get conceited past bearing. As it is
(1) evil finds itself revealed as evil;
(2) evil gains space for repentance;
(3) evil has opportunity and incentive to repentance.
Evil put in close association with goodness
(1) tests goodness itself; makes it no easy thing to be good;
(2) finds spheres for goodness to work in; and so, by working, goodness is nourished.
Heaven is not to be thought of as the place for becoming good, but for being good. This life is the time for the training of man's character. We need have no fear concerning the issues of Divine training. As certainly as no tares will be spared from the burning, so certainly no true wheat will ever be lost.—R.T.
The hope that may be in little things.
Dr. Royle thinks the mustard is the plant called in Syria khardal, and known to botanists as the Salvadora persica. From a small seed it grows into a considerable tree, and its fruit has a pleasant aromatic taste; birds like it much, and frequent the branches. It is said that it grew abundantly on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, and so came under Christ's direct notice. But Dr. Thomson thinks the khardal was very rare in Palestine, and that our Lord referred to the common wild mustard, Sinapis nigra, which grows to a considerable height—as tall, indeed, as a horse and his rider. To call the mustard the least of seeds was a proverbial expression of the time. It was the least that the husbandman would sow, and is fittingly taken as a type of little things that have great possibilities in them.
I. CHRIST'S KINGDOM ADVANCES BY GROWTH. That is, by unfoldings out of rather than by additions to. It is as a tree rather than as a house. Compare the mechanical extension of a religion, as in the case of Mohammedanism; and the miraculous extension of a religion, which would tend to destroy its moral character. If Christ's kingdom spreads by growth, we should not expect forced leaps, though we may look for periods of fuller flowing life, such as is the spring time of nature. Christ's kingdom comes by the "out-populating of the Christian stock," and by the out-reaching of the Christian example and influence.
II. THE GROWTH OFTEN STARTS FROM VERY MINUTE BEGINNINGS. Illustrate:
1. By the mustard seed, the acorn, or the cedar cone.
2. By the Christian Church in Europe, which began with the woman Lydia at Philippi.
3. By the unfoldings of missionary enterprise.
4. By the Sunday schools, which started in an effort to save a few children from the street.
5. By instances of persona! Christian labour. A youth's prayer unfolded into the Young Men's Christian Association. Never "despise the day of small things," or miss the opportunity of doing a little.
III. THE GROWTH MAY AT LAST REACH GLORIOUS RESULTS. A little seed, scarcely covering a spot, may grow to spread its branches in the sky. Illustrate from the Christian Church of today, which is represented in well nigh every land. Do you say, "The results are not yet"? That is only the result of your mode of reckoning. If the kingdom be a life, if it be righteousness and mercy, then the kingdom is nearer its full triumph than we have imagined.—R.T.
The force there may be in quiet things.
"Like leaven." The word "leaven" means "something that raises," from the mode of its operation. In one way it corrupts; in another way it makes edible and wholesome. Leaven consists of myriads of the cells of the common green mould in an undeveloped state. It is at once a principle of destruction and construction, of decay and of growth, of death and of life. In this parable our Lord seems to fix attention on the very silent, quiet, hidden, yet persistent way in which leaven works its great results. The parable teaches the self-developing power of truth. The mode of its operation; ever from within outwards. And the fact which can be verified in human experience, that the greatest results may follow the most insignificant beginnings.
I. HOW SILENT ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF THE NEW LIFE IN SOULS! The devotion of the disciples to Christ was a power they did not estimate. It was a small beginning, but it grew in power to make them martyrs. The first faith and love of Christ's disciples was so weak that an evening breeze could have blown it away; by and by it stood the raging wintry storms of persecution. It was life, and, spreading, it gained power. The beginning of the new life in us is the time when mind and heart waken to personal interest in Christ. But this beginning is often hidden from others, and even from the man himself. If we recognized this fact
(1) we should make more of God's part, and less of our own, in the work of redemption;
(2) we should be more quick to discern signs of God's working;
(3) we should much oftener be encouraged by noticing the results of our Christian labour.
II. HOW CONSTANT ARE THE ACTIVITIES OF THE NEW LIFE IN SOULS! Like the leaven, that is always going on leavening. Think of it as the spirit of faith, of trust in God, put into our carnal, corrupt, self-seeking nature, even as leaven is put in meal; and as Christianity is put into an evil world. The spirit of trust is active, like the leaven. Christian life and relations provide the spheres in which the active principle of faith is spreading.
III. HOW GLORIOUS IS THE ISSUE TOWARD WHICH THE NEW LIFE IN SOULS IS WORKING!
1. It will "leaven the whole lump." True of humanity; but now we see that it is especially true of our humanity, ourselves. It is working to win
(1) the body, with all its passions and relations;
(2) the mind, with all its endowments and interests;
(3) the soul, with all its capacities and possibilities. When the whole lump is leavened, then holiness, and therefore heaven, is gained.—R.T.
Religion gained at personal sacrifice.
A man is ploughing in a field which he only rented, or perhaps only worked in as a labourer. He comes casually on the sign of a buried treasure; but he dares not touch a thing. So he covers up the signs, and sets all his heart and effort on gaining possession of that field. He counts no sacrifice too great if it helps to realize his aim. This parable deals with the individual man and personal religion.
I. TRUE RELIGION IS A MATTER OF INDIVIDUAL CONCERN. Christ came to redeem the human race from sin; but he does it by redeeming them "one by one." Illustrate our Lord's dealing with individuals, as Nicodemus or woman of Samaria. It is easy to rest in a mere connection with Christianity; to belong to a Christian country, or a Christian family, or a Christian society. But the gospel singles the individual out, and says, "Thou art the man"—the sinner that needs Christ the Saviour.
II. TRUE RELIGION IS A MATTER OF DIRECT PERSONAL RELATIONS. This man may know of the hid treasure, but that does not satisfy him. He must have that treasure for his very own. We know of the great salvation, but that does not make it ours. Christ says, "Come unto me;" have personal dealings with me. The apostle says, "He that hath the Son," in the grip of his own personal trust and love, "hath life." Here so many fail. There must be personal appropriation. We must be able to say, "Who loved me, and gave himself for me."
III. TRUE RELIGION REQUIRES A MAN TO MAKE PERSONAL SACRIFICE. This man gave up all else to gain possession of this treasure. Everything that is worth possessing is hard to win. Illustrate by the friends seeking healing for the paralytic, and breaking up the roof in order to get to Jesus; also by the persistency of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The forms of effort and sacrifice demanded depend on the age and the disposition.
1. Intellectual pride may have to be lowered.
2. Ensnaring talents (artistic or scientific) may have to be put aside.
3. The common sneer at all who are in real earnest in spiritual religion may have to be borne.
4. All forms of self-confidence and self-reliance have to be broken down. So many entrench themselves behind their own moral goodness, and fail to get the hid treasure, because they cannot make full sacrifice of that moral goodness.—R.T.
Matthew 13:45, Matthew 13:46
Satisfied only with the best.
The general truth taught in this and in the preceding parable is that he who would be a follower of Christ must be prepared to sacrifice everything for the kingdom of God. The difference between the two parables is that in the one case the man found accidentally, but in the other case he sought deliberately. "The one parable illustrates the eagerness of a poor man, who lights upon the treasure apparently by accident; the other illustrates the eagerness of a rich man, whose finding of the pearl of price is the result of carefully studied and long sustained search" (Dods).
I. SOUL SEEKING. What does a soul seek? Man seeks the true and the beautiful. Souls seek the good; and this is but a way of saying they seek God. "Man feels that he was not made in vain, there must be a centre of peace for him, a good that will satisfy all the cravings of his soul, and he is determined not to rest until it is found."
II. UNSATISFIED SOUL SEEKING. No ordinary pearls content the man. The human seeker often fancies for a time that he has found rest in things—art, science, literature, or human love. The soul never deludes itself or permits any delusions. Short of God it never rests; it cannot. Illustrate by the hopeless wail of disappointment with which Solomon closes his life quest; or by the delusion of the mirage in the desert regions.
III. SATISFIED SOUL SEEKING. Only reached when the soul gets full possession of, and calls its very own, the "Pearl of great price." To the unsatisfied soul there presently comes the voice, "None is good save one, that is God." He is good. All good is but some ray from that sun. And then the soul says, "Can I find him, can I get him, can I possess him as my own?" He can. When he does, he may say as the poet, who uses another figure—
"Now I have found the ground wherein
Sure my soul's anchor may remain"
Can the soul find full satisfaction? It is not away in heaven, to be journeyed for. It is not in the deep, to be searched for. It is close nigh to every one of us. He who is the soul's satisfaction is nigh. It is Jesus of Nazareth. It is God manifest in the flesh, who can be appropriated and possessed by our trust and our love.—R.T.
The final sorting time.
Those who have watched the hauling in of the great seine net on our shores, the rapid sorting of its contents, the throwing of the bad away, and the noisy auction on the sands, will fully realize every point of our Lord's illustration. The net represents the gospel message, the good news of God the Saviour. It is like a net; it will catch and hold men. Put into words it is this: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus "is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him." The gospel net is given in charge to the Church. The Church must work freely and constantly at casting the net in the wide sweep of the sea of humanity.
I. THE GOSPEL NET ENCLOSES ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE. From all sorts of motives, and with very different degrees of earnestness and sincerity, men accept the gospel message, and make Christian profession. Several parables teach that the Church is a very mixed body. Mere standing in a Church is no more guarantee of acceptance with Christ than presence in the net shows the goodness of the fish.
II. THE PEOPLE CANNOT BE SORTED WHILE THEY ARE IN THE NET. Some of the fish would escape if sorting were attempted while the net was being dragged through the water. Illustrate from the parable of the tares.
III. WHEN THE NET IS DRAWN ASHORE SORTING WORK CAN BE DONE. A revealing day, a testing day, must come for us all. But no imperfect human judgment will do the great sorting work. God himself will superintend the severing of the righteous from the wicked. We will not venture to describe the wicked. We can safely describe the good. They are such as
(1) receive Christ with meekness;
(2) bring forth the fruits of righteousness;
(3) patiently continue in well doing.
So Christ's gospel, like a great net, is to be sent out into all the world, that it may, if possible, gather all men in. So the contents of the gospel net, when gathered in at last, will need, and will receive, a final sifting.—R.T.
Unexpected learning in a carpenter's son.
"Whence hath this Man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son?" The Jews never despised handicrafts, and this expression must not be explained as scorning Jesus because he was a carpenter's son, or a carpenter. What is in the minds of these scorners is that he was nothing but a carpenter; he had received no training whatever in the rabbinical schools. He was no educated and authorized rabbi, and that they knew very well. Hillel, the greatest rabbi of the same age as Joseph, though he was a descendant of David, spent most of his life in the deepest poverty as a common workman.
I. A SURPRISE THAT PROPERLY EXCITED THOUGHT. Jesus certainly was an unusual Teacher. He dealt with unusual subjects in an unusual way, and with an unusual attractiveness and authority. There were no such subtle distinctions as exhibited the great learning of the rabbis; but men had skill enough to recognize unusual and extraordinary intellectual as well as moral power in Christ. It was quite right for them to think about such a strange fact and phenomenon. It is quite right for us to think about it. We may well say to one another, "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he?"
II. A SURPRISE THAT RECEIVED MISTAKES EXPLANATIONS. Exactly how they explained the fact they admitted we are not told; but it is quite clear that prejudice blinded their eyes, and prevented their getting any true ideas of Christ. No doubt they accused him of conceited self-assertion. He was pushing himself to the front, and talking big, as if he were better than his brothers and sisters. They were offended at him, and thought unkind things of him. Illustrate by the things prejudiced men say of Christ now.
III. A SURPRISE THAT CAN HAVE A SATISFACTORY EXPLANATION. This man was taught of God; was a Prophet of God who received Divine messages; nay, was the Son of God revealing the things of the Father-God to men. Never mind about remembering him when he was a boy. Never mind about his never having gone to a school of the rabbis. Never mind his having toiled at the carpenter's bench. Fix thought on what he is—the divinely taught Teacher and Saviour of men.—R.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25