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The foregoing chapter gave us an account of an awakening sermon preached by our Saviour to the Pharisees. In this chapter we are acquainted with the continuance of his preaching to the multitude, where three things are observable,
1. Our Lord's assiduity and unwearied diligence in preaching of the gospel; for this sermon was made the same day with that in the former chapter, ver. 1. The same day went Jesus out, and sat by the sea-side. A good pattern for the preachers of the gospel to follow. How ashamed may we be to preach once a week, when our Lord preached twice a day!
Observe, 2. The place our Lord preached in, a ship, no unmeet place to preach in. It is not the place that sanctifies the ordinance, but the ordinance that sanctifies the place.
Observe, 3. The manner of our Lord's preaching; It was by parables and similitudes; which was an ancient way of instruction among the Jews, and a very convincing way; at once working upon men's minds, memories, and affections; making the mind attentive, the memory retentive, and the auditors inquisitive after the interpretation of the parable.
Some are of opinion that our Saviour's parables were suited to his hearers' employments, some of whom being husbandmen, he resembles his doctrine to seed sown in the field; for thus he speaks:
Behold a sower went forth to sow: Matthew 13:1-9
The scope of this parable is to shew, that there are four several sorts of hearers of the word, and but one sort only that hear to a saving advantage: also to shew us the cause of the different success of the word preached.
Here observe, 1. The sowers, Christ and his apostles, he the prime and principal sower, they the secondary and subordinate seedsmen. Christ sows his own field, his ministers sow his field; he sows his own seed, they sow his seed. Woe unto us, if we sow our own seed and not Christ's.
Observe, 2. The seed sown, the word of God. Fabulous legends, and unwritten traditions, which the seedsmen of the church of Rome sow, these are not seed, but chaff; or their own seed, not Christ's. Our Lord's field must be sown with his own seed, not with mixed grain.
Learn, 1. That the word of God preached is like seed sown in the furrows of the field. As seed has a fructifying virtue in it, by which it increases and brings forth more of its own kind; so has the word of God a quickening power, to regenerate and make alive dead souls.
Learn, 2. That the seed of the word, doth not thrive in all grounds alike, so neither doth the word fructify alike in the hearts of men. There is a difference both from the nature of the soil, and from the influence of the Spirit.
Learn, 3. That the cause of the word's unfruitfulness is very different, and not the same in all: in some it is the policy of Satan, that bird of prey, which follows God's plough, and steals away the precious seed.
In others, it is a hard heart of unbelief; in others, the cares of the world, like thorns, choke the word, overgrow the good seed, draw away the moisture of the earth, and the heart of the soul, and hinder the influences of the sun. The far greater part of hearers are fruitless and unprofitable hearers.
Learn, 4. That the best ground doth not bring forth fruit alike; some good ground brings forth more, and some less; some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred-fold.
In like manner a person may be a profitable hearer of the word, although he doth not bring forth so great a proportion of fruit as others, provided he brings forth as much as he can.
Here we have the disciples' question, and our Saviour's answer.
Their question is, Why speakest thou to the people in parables which they do not understand? They cannot see the soul of thy meaning, through the body of thy parables.
Christ answers, " To you, my disciples, and such as you are, who love the truth, and desire to obey it, the Spirit gives you an affective, operative, and experimental knowledge, not barely to know these things, but to believe them, and feel the power of them in and upon your own hearts; but the generality of hearers do satisfy and content themselves with a bare notional knowledge of what they hear; a parable therefore is well enough for them."
Learn, 1. That the doctrines of the gospel are mysterious.
2. That it is a matchless and invaluable privilege, practically and savingly to understand and know gospel mysteries.
3. That this privilege all are not sharers in or partakers of, but only those to whom it is given, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it is not given.
That is, whosoever improves the measures of grace received, shall obtain farther measures and degrees of it: But from him that doth not improve what he has already received, shall be taken away that which to himself or others he seemed to have, his common gifts and moral endowments.
Learn, That where there are beginnings of true grace, and a right and wise improvement of it, God will make rich additions or more grace to the present stock which we have received.
These words of our blessed Saviour, as I conceive, have a peculiar reference and relation to the Pharisees, who attended upon Christ's ministry, not with an honest simplicity of mind, to be instructed by it, but to carp and cavil at it. Our Saviour tells them, he had formerly spoken things very plainly and clearly to them, and also wrought miracles before them, to convince them of the divinity of his person and of the verity of his doctrine: but they would not believe either his person or his doctrine to be from God; and therefore he would now speak to them in dark parables, that they may be judicially blinded; they sinfully shut their eyes against the clearest light, and said they would not see; and now Christ closes their eyes judicially, and says they shall not see.
Learn hence, To acknowledge the divine justice, which speaks darkly to them that despise the light: such who see and yet see not, they shall see the shell but not the kernel; they shall hear the parable, but not understand the spiritual sense and meaning of it. When wilful blindness of mind is added to natural blindness, it is a just and righteous thing with God to superadd judicial blindness, and give them obstinancy of heart, his curse unto them.
Here our Saviour pronounces such of his disciples and followers blessed, who received the truths of the gospel so far as they were already taught them: he assures them that they shall receive farther light and fuller measures of spiritual illumination: Blessed are your eyes, for they see.
Learn, That such as have received the least measures of spiritual knowledge and saving illumination, and do improve it, are in a happy and blessed condition; for as they are capable of further measures of divine knowledge, so shall they be partakers of them.
As if our Lord has said, "You my disciples, who are not satisfied with a sound of words, I will explain to you the sense and signification of this parable: the scope of which is, to shew the different effects which the word of God has upon men's hearts, and the reason of that difference.
The seed is the word, the sower is the preacher, the soil is the heart and soul of man."
Now our Saviour assures us, that both the hearts of some hearers are like highway ground; in which the seed is not covered with the harrow of meditation; others are like stony ground, in which the word has no root; no root in their understandings, memories, conscience, will, or affections: but they are offended, either at the depth and profoundness of the word, or at the sanctity and strictness of it, or at the plainness and simplicity of it.
Again, some hearers our Lord compares to the thorny ground. Thorns are covetous desires, which choke the good seed, shadow the blade when sprung up, keep off the influences of the sun and draw away the fatness of the soil from the seed. All these effects have thorns in and among the seed; and the like effects have worldly affections and covetous desires in the heart of man, rendering the word unfruitful and unprofitable.
But the good Christian hears the word attentively, keeps it retentively, believes it stedfastly, applies it particularly, practises it universally, and brings forth fruit with patience and perseverance; fruit that will redound to his account, in the great day of account.
Learn, 1. That no hearers are in Christ's account good hearers of the word, but such as bring forth the fruits of an holy, humble, and peaceable conversation.
2. That a person may be a good hearer of the word, if he brings forth the best fruit he can, though it be not in so great a proportion as others do: as some ground brings forth thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred-fold: in like manner do all the sincere hearers of the word, they all bring forth fruit, though not all alike; all in sincerity and reality, though not all to the same degree, and none to perfection.
Observe lastly, Satan is here compared to the fowls of the air, which pick up the seed before it takes any root in the earth. The devil is very jealous of the success of the word, and therefore labours all he can to destroy the word before it comes to operate upon the heart; which he doth sometimes by the cares of the world, sometimes by vain companions, who prove mere quench-coals unto early convictions; if he can steal away the word or choke it, he has his desire and design.
The design and scope of this parable is, to shew that there is no expectation of universal purity in the church of God in this life; but as the tares and the wheat grow together in the same field, so hypocrites and sincere Christians are and will be intermixed in the same church, and can hardly be discerned one from the other.
St. Jerome observes, That in the eastern countries, the tares and the wheat were so like one another, whilst they were in the blade, that there was no knowing them asunder.
Learn, 1. That in the outward and visible church, there ever has been and will be a mixture of good and bad, of saints and sinners, of hypocrites, and sincere Christians, until the day of judgment.
2. That in that day Christ will make a thorough and perfect separation, and divide the tares from the wheat; that is, the righteous from the wicked.
3. That in the meantime none ought to be so offended at this mixture in the church, as to separate from church communication on that account: until the harvest, it is not to be expected that the tares and the wheat should be perfectly separated.
Yet observe, 4. That though the tares are forbidden to be plucked up when sown, yet it is the church's duty, all she can, to hinder their sowing. Though we must not root the wicked up, yet we must prevent the rooting of wickedness all we can. Our Saviour, that forbad to pluck up the cares, did not forbid to hinder their sowing.
Note here, How vain is the collection of the Erastians from hence, that the wicked are not to be cut of by excommunication from the communion of the church; nor doth this text prove that the magistrates may not cut off evil doers; seeing this was not spoken to them, but to the ministers of the church.
Our Saviour's design in this parable is, to shew how the gospel, from small and little, from unlikely and contemptible beginnings, shall spread and increase, fructify and grow up; like a mustard seed, one of the smallest grains, grows up to a considerable tallness; and as a little leaven turns a great heap of meal into its own nature; so the gospel shall spread and increase, nations and countries becoming Christians.
Learn, That how small beginning soever the gospel had in its first plantation, yet, by the fructifying blessing of God, it has had and shall have a wonderful increase.
The parable of the tares of the field, Christ is pleased to explain to his disciples after this manner. The person sowing good seed was himself, The Son of man; who first planted the gospel: the field in which the seed was sown was the world; that is, the church in the world: the good seed, called, The children of the kingdom, are sincere Christians: the tares called, The children of the wicked one, are profane sinners, and unsound hypocrites: the enemy is the devil, the harvest is the end of the world, and the angels are the reapers.
Learn, 1. That the mixture of the tares and the wheat, of the righteous and the wicked must and shall remain in the church unto the end of the world.
2. That in the end of the world the angels shall perform the work of separations, gathering the righteous from among the wicked: when everyone's harvest shall be according to his fruit; The righteous shining in the kingdom of their Father, the wicked cast into a furnace of fire.
By the treasure hid in the field, and the pearl of great price, are understood, Christ, the grace of the gospel, and the way to life and salvation therin discovered; he that is thoroughly convinced of the worth and excellency of Christ's grace, will part with all that he has to purchase and obtain it.
Learn, That the sinner who will have interest in Christ, and a part in gospel grace, must part with all that he has to purchase and obtain them, even with his goods and lands with his wife and children; for Christ and his grace are a real good, a substantial good, a durable good; he outbids all the offers the world can make, and therefore it is our wisdom to part with all for him, and especially our sins, dearer to us than all the rest.
The design and scope of this parable also is to set forth the state of the gospel church, which is like a floor, where chaff is mixed with wheat; a field, where tares are mixed with good corn; a net, where bad fishes are involved with the good. As the wheat must not be removed out of the floor before the time of winnowing; nor the tares gathered out of the field before the time of reaping; nor the good fishes break through the net to get from the bad before the time of separation; so must not Christians forsake a church's communion, because of the present mixture of good and bad in the church. For a mixed communion, in the church, and the good Christians communicating with the bad, do neither defile the ordinances of Christ, nor pollute those that sincerely join in them.
Observe here, 1. The title which our Saviour puts upon gospel-ministers; they are household stewards.
2. He points out the office of those stewards; and that is, to provide for the household both with plenty and variety. He must bring forth out of his treasure in plenty; and things new and old for their variety.
There are two essential qualifications in a steward, faithfulness and prudence: he must be honest and faithful, in bringing out of his own treasure, not another's; and he must be prudent, in bringing things new, as well as old; not new truths, but old truths in as new dress: lest the household, by always feeding upon the same dish, do nauseate it, instead of being nourished by it.
Observe here, 1. Christ's tender and compassionate regard to his own countrymen, the people of Galilee and Nazareth: he preached to them in their synagogue.
2. The effect which his doctrine had upon them: They were astonished at it, but not converted by it; they admired, but did not believe.
3. The cause of their rejecting Christ's ministry was the meanness of his person, the contemptableness of his outward condition, the poverty of his relations: is not this the carpenter's son? Mark 6:3. He is called the carpenter; whence the fathers concluded, that our Saviour during the time of his obscure privacy, wrought at the trade of Joseph his reputed father; and Justin Martyr says he made ploughs and yokes. Sure we are, our Lord spent no time in idleness, though we are not certain how he employed his time before he entered upon his public minstry.
Note, That the poverty and meanness of Christ's condition was that which multitudes stumbled at; and which kept many, yea most, from believing on him. None but a spiritual eye can discern beauty in an humble Saviour: Is not this the son of the carpenter?
2. That it is no impediment to, or hindrance of, our faith, that we never saw Christ's person in the flesh, nor knew his parentage and education; for here are his own countrymen, who daily saw his person, heard his doctrine, and were witnesses of his holy conversation, yet instead of believing in him they were offended at him.
Our Saviour tells them, he doth not wonder that so many of his own countrymen, to whom he had been so familiarly known, did despise his person, and reject his doctrine; a prophet generally has least esteem where he has been brought up; because, perhaps the follies of his childhood, and indecencies of his youth, are remembered and reported to his disparagement.
Learn, 1. That there is a real tribute of honour due and payable to every prophet, or faithful minister of Jesus Christ.
2. That the ministers of Christ, for the most part, have least honour from their own countrymen, to whom they are best known.
3. That although it be so, yet this may not be through their own fault, for Christ was so amongst us.
This sin not only locks up the heart of a sinner, but also binds up the hands of a Saviour. Unbelief obstructed Christ's miraculous works when on earth, and it obstructs his gracious works now in heaven.
Ah! cursed unbelief! which shuts up, O sinner, thy heart, and shuts out thy Saviour, and will effectually shut thee out of heaven, and not only procure damnation, but no damnation like it!
Christ was unable because they were unwilling; his impotency was occasioned by their infidelity; he did not, because he would not; and that he would not, proceeded from a defect in their faith, not from any deficiency in Christ's power; their unbelief bound his hands, and hindered the execution of his power.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34