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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
The Merchant Man Who Sold All That He Had and Bought the Pearl of Great Price
THIS is one of those travelling jewellers of the East who compass sea and land in their search for goodly pearls. He is never at home. He is always on the look-out for more and more precious pearls. Till one day his long search is signally rewarded. He is engaged in exploring a certain market of precious stones, when suddenly his eye falls on a pearl the like of which he had never supposed to exist. Its great size, its perfect form, its exquisite beauty, its dazzling light-he had never expected to see such a gem. Ascertaining from its owner the great price of the pearl, the merchant man forthwith sells all that he possesses, and buys up on the spot that pearl of great price. We get a well-known word from the honourable name that is here given to this enterprising merchant man. Our Lord calls him an emporium man. And so he is. For he has spent his whole life in the search for the very best pearls, till his emporium is famous for the size, and the beauty, and the value, of its pearls. And his famous emporium is now more famous than ever because of this splendid purchase he has made on his last enterprising journey.
Now, the world of books, to begin with, is not unlike a merchant man seeking goodly pearls. For every really good book that a really good judge of books discovers becomes a pearl of great price to him. Till as his reading life goes on, he as good as sells all his former books for the sake of this and that pearl of books which he has discovered in the course of his reading. A new beginner in books reads everything he comes across. All printed matter interests him, and a poor and passing book will for a time satisfy him, and even entrance him. But as time goes on, and as the real use of a good book, and the real rarity of a good book, become revealed to him, the true reader will be found giving up all his reading time, and all his reading outlay, to the really great and life-long books of the world, and to them alone. As, for instance, Dr. Chalmers.
During my Christmas holiday I have been renewing my acquaintance with that true pearl of a book, Dr. Hanna's Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers. And among a multitude of lessons I learned and laid up for myself and for my classes out of that treasure-house, Dr. Chalmers's ever-growing appreciation of the very best books was one of the best lessons I again learned. "Butler made me a Christian," said Chalmers, somewhat hyperbolically, to one of his early friends. "Pascal's," he wrote to another friend, "is more than all Greek and Roman fame." Before his eyes were opened, and before his taste was refined to distinguish pearl from paste, Chalmers actually denounced John Newton, and Richard Baxter, and Philip Doddridge, from the pulpit, and as good as forbade his people to read them. But the day was fast coming when this great merchant man of ours was to sell all that he had in order to buy the very pearls he had so scouted in the days of his disgraceful and guilty ignorance. For as I read on I came on such entries in his private journal as these: "Began Richard Baxter, which I mean to make my devotional reading in the evenings." "Sept. 13.-I have begun Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, and intend it for circulation." And writing the same year to a younger brother of his, he says, "I look upon Baxter and Doddridge as two most impressive writers, and from whom you are likely to carry away the impression that a preparation for eternity should be the main business and anxiety of time." "Nov. 11.-Finished this day the perusal of Foster's Essays, which I have read with great relish and excitement. His profoundly evangelical views are most congenial to me. O my God, give me of the fulness of Christ! May I never lose sight of Christ, that through Him I may pass from death unto life." "March 14.-I am much impressed with the reality and business-like style of Doddridge's intercourse with God. O Heavenly Father, convert my religion from a name to a principle!" You may remember that there is an old evangelical classic entitled The Marrow. Sell a whole shelf of your juvenile books and buy it, and you will be wise merchant men, if Dr. Chalmers is a good judge.-"Sunday, August 23.-I am reading The Marrow, and derive from it much light and satisfaction. It is a masterly performance. August the 24th.-Finished The Marrow. I feel a growing delight in the fulness and sufficiency of Christ. O my God, bring me nearer and nearer to Thy Son!" And of another masterpiece of another master mind, he writes-"Read Edwards on the Religious Affections. He is to me the most exciting and interesting of all theological writers." "Who taught you to preach in that way?" asked David Maclagan one day long ago at Dr. Rainy in the vestry behind me here. "John Owen," was all the answer. Now, writing to Dr. Wardlaw, Dr. Chalmers says, "I am reading Owen just now on The Person of Christ. May the Spirit more and more take of the things of Christ and show them to me." And again, "Have finished Owen on Spiritual-Mindedness. O my God, give me the life and the power of those who have made this high attainment!" And again, "Have you read Owen on the Hundred and Thirtieth Psalm? This is my last great book, and I would strongly recommend it as eminently conducive to a way of peace and holiness." And of the very Doddridge against whom he had at one time warned his parishioners, he now writes-"I have been reading more of Doddridge, and do indeed find myself to be a very alienated and undone creature. But let me cleave to Christ so as to receive all my completeness from Him." And of another goodly pearl, whose title at least you all know, he writes, "I am on the eve of finishing Guthrie, which, I think, is the best book I ever read." And at a later date-"I still think it the best human composition I ever read relating to a subject about which it is my earnest prayer that we may all be found on the right side of the question." Romaine also, was such a favourite with Chalmers as he grew in years and in grace that I cannot begin to quote his constant praise of that fine spiritual writer. And to sum up with an extract from his Journal that bears on this whole question-"I breathe with delight in the element of godly books, and do fondly hope that their savour, at one time wholly unfelt by me, argues well for my regeneration." And at the very end of his saintly and splendid life-"I am reading Ebenezer Erskine on The Assurance of Faith, and I specially like it. Its doctrine is very precious to me." Such are some samples of the kind of books that Dr. Chalmers sold all in order to buy a taste for them, and a life-long enjoyment of them. Let every divinity student read Chalmers's Memoirs just before he is ordained, and once again every three or four years all his ordained days.
You may not be much of a merchant man in the world of books, and yet this parable may be found entirely true of you in some other world of your own. "I have no books," said Jacob Behmen, "but I have myself." And Apollo did not say, Know many books. What he kept saying continually was this, "Know thyself." Now, you may be this kind of a merchant man that not some book, but some doctrine, of the kingdom of heaven may be to you your pearl of great price. The true and full doctrine of New Testament faith, for instance. What New Testament, and evangelical, and justifying, and sanctifying, faith really is. What its true object really is, and what its true acts and operations really are. The true nature of Gospel faith has been a perfect pearl of great price to some great men when at last they found it. It was so to John Wesley. "Preach faith till you find it," said Peter Bohler, Wesley's Moravian master, to him; "and then preach it because you have found it." And all the world knows how John Wesley sold, so to speak, every other doctrine in order to hold and to preach immediate and soul-saving faith, and with what immediate and soul-saving results. Another will find his pearl of great price in the spiritual doctrine of holy love, as was the case with John Wesley's English master, William Law. As Law did also in a whole world of doctrines, and habits, and practices, connected with secret prayer. And as George Whitefield, John Wesley's predecessor in field-preaching, discovered such unsearchable riches to him in the Pauline doctrines of election, and assurance, and perseverance to the end. And as so many men of the Owen, and Goodwin, and Edwards type have discovered in the deep, spiritual doctrines connected with the entrance into their hearts of the holy law of God, and connected with the consequent sinfulness of sin, and then connected with the work of the Holy Ghost continually carried on within their hearts. And so on. Till every genuine merchant man has his own special pearls of divine truth; not to the denying or the despising of other men's purchases; but because his own pearls of great price have so attracted him, and have so enriched him.
But after all that has been said about pearls of great price and their purchase, every merchant man's own soul is his most precious pearl. And our Lord counsels us all to sell all our other pearls, good and bad, great and small, and buy up our own soul unto everlasting life. "What is a man profited," our Lord demands of every man among us, "if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Our Lord was the last to undervalue the world which He had made, and of which He is the Heir, and yet He says that if any man should have this whole world in one hand, and his immortal soul in the other hand, he will be a fool of the first water if he holds to the whole world and lets go his immortal soul. Yes. The pearl of all pearls to you and to me is our own immortal soul. And we do not have to compass sea and land in search of this pearl of great price. We have it in our hand already, and all we have to do in order to be the richest of merchant men, is to keep a good hold of it. Unless, indeed, we have already lost hold of it. As we have. Alas, as we all have. Oh, what a fatal market is that which goes on all around every man who has a soul to sell to his everlasting loss, or to keep to his everlasting enriching. Oh, what a mad market that is in which men's souls, worth more than the whole world, are sold away every day for nought, and for far less than nought. And thus it was that our Lord was not content with warning us as to the value of our souls; but He entered the soul-market Himself, and bought back our souls at a price that has for ever put His immense estimate upon them. He who alone knows the exchangeless value of our immortal souls, He came and redeemed our souls at a price which was worth far more than the whole world, and all our souls to the bargain. For He redeemed our souls at the price of His own precious blood.
But then all that only ends, as every parable of His has ended, in making our Blessed Lord Himself the Pearl of all pearls to us. All these partial, and, as it were, preliminary, pearls take their value to us entirely from Him. They all run up their values into Him. All good books are really good books to us, just in the measure that they speak to us about Jesus Christ. If they speak not to us about Him-take them away. Light the fire with them. They are not worth their house-room. All our doctrines also of whatever kind; doctrines of science, of politics, of letters, of art, of theology, of morals-all are sound and safe for a man to go by himself, and to teach his children to go by, only in the measure that Jesus Christ is in them. It was really, and all the time, the Preacher Himself who was the goodly Pearl of that sermon and that day. "To whom can we go," said Peter when he was under the illumination of the Father,-"but unto Thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life." All of you, then, who are seeking for goodly pearls, whether in the world of books, or of doctrines, or of any other kind of good things; here, under your very eye; here, to your very hand, is the greatest and the best Pearl in all the world. For Jesus Christ gathers up into Himself all the truth, and all the beauty, and all the satisfaction, that your heart has for so long been seeking in vain. He is the Father's Pearl of great price. He is the one perfect Chrysolite of heaven on sale on earth. Who, then, on the spot will sell all that he has, and will be for ever after the wisest of merchant men? Nay, who will take away with him tonight God's greatest Pearl as God's free gift, without money and without price? For the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'The Merchant Man Who Sold All That He Had and Bought the Pearl of Great Price'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/t/the-merchant-man-who-sold-all-that-he-had-and-bought-the-pearl-of-great-price.html. 1901.
the Seventh Week after Easter