At the close of the previous chapter our Lord disowned all the natural ties which bound Him to Israel. I speak now simply of His bringing it out as a matter of teaching; for we know that, historically, the moment for finally breaking with them was the cross. But ministerially, if we may so say, the break occurred and was indicated now. He took advantage of an allusion to his mother and brethren to say who His real kindred were - no longer those who were connected with Him after the flesh: the only family He could own now were such as did the will of His Father in heaven. He recognizes nothing but the tie formed by the word of God received into the heart and obeyed accordingly. The Holy Ghost pursues this subject by recording, in a connected form, a number of parables which were intended to show the source, the character, the conduct and the issues of this new family, or at least of those who professed to belong to it. This is the subject of Matthew 13. A striking instance it is how manifestly the Holy Ghost has grouped the materials into the particular shape in which we actually have them; for we know that our Lord spoke more parables than are here given. Comparing it with the Gospel of Mark, we find a parable that differs materially from any which appears in Matthew. In Mark it is a person who sows the ground and sleeps and rises night and day, waiting for the germination and the full growth and the ripening of the corn, and then himself gathers it in. This diverges very considerably from all the parables of the earlier Gospel; yet we know from Mark that the parable in question was uttered on the same day. "With many such parables spake He the Word unto them, as they were able to hear it; but without a parable spake He not unto them. . . . And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side."
Just as the Holy Ghost selects certain parables in Mark which are inserted, while others are left out (and the same in Luke), so also was it the case in Matthew. The Holy Ghost is conveying fully God's mind about the new testimony, commonly called Christianity, and even Christendom. Accordingly, the very beginning of this chapter prepares us for the new scene. "The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside" (ver. 1), Up to this time the house of God was connected with Israel. There God dwelt, as far as this could be said of the earth; He counted it as His habitation. But Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the seaside. We all know that the sea, in the symbolic language of the Old and New Testaments, is used to represent masses of men, roving hither and thither outside, and not under the settled government of God. "And great multitudes were gathered unto Him, so that He went into a ship and sat." From thence He teaches them. "And the whole multitude stood on the shore." The very action of our Lord indicated that there was to be a very widespread testimony. The parables themselves are not confined to the sphere of our Lord's previous dealings, but take in a much more extensive range than anything which He had spoken in past times. "He spake many things unto them in parables" (ver. 3). It is not intimated that we have all the parables our Lord spoke; but the Holy Ghost here gives us seven connected parables, all brought together and compacted into a consistent system, as I shall endeavour to show. The Holy Ghost is clearly exercising a certain authority as to the parables selected here, for we all know that seven is the scriptural number for that which is complete: whether it speak of good or evil, spiritually, seven is regularly the number used. When the symbol of twelve is used it expresses completeness, not spiritual, but as to what has to do with man. Where human administration is brought into prominence for carrying out the purposes of God, there the number twelve appears. Hence we have the twelve apostles, who had a peculiar relation to the twelve tribes of Israel; but when the Church is to be presented, we hear again the number seven - "the seven churches." However that may be, we have seven parables here, for the purpose of giving a complete account of the new order of things about to begin - Christendom and Christianity, the true as well as the spurious.
The first question, then, that occurs is, How comes it that we have this series of parables here and nowhere else? Certain of them are in Mark, and certain in Luke; but nowhere, except in Matthew, have we seven, the complete list. The answer is this: Nothing can be more beautiful, or more proper, than that they should be given in a Gospel presenting Jesus as the Messiah to Israel; then, on His rejection, showing what God would next bring out. To the disciples, when their hopes were melting away, what could be of deeper interest than to know the nature and end of this testimony? If the Lord should send out His word among the Gentiles, what would be the result? Accordingly, Matthew's Gospel is the only one that gives us a complete sketch of the kingdom of heaven; as it also gives us the intimation that the Lord was going to found the Church. It is only in Matthew that we have both brought out. This, however, I reserve for another day; but I must observe that the kingdom of heaven is not the same thing as the Church, but rather the scene where the authority of Christ is owned, at least outwardly. It may be real or not, but every professing Christian is in the kingdom of heaven. Every person who, even in an external rite, confesses Christ, is not a mere Jew or Gentile, but in the kingdom. It is a very different thing from a man's being born again and being baptized by the Holy Ghost into the body of Christ. Whoso bears the name of Christ belongs to the kingdom of heaven. It may be that he is only a tare there, but still there he is. This is a very solemn thing. Wherever Christ is outwardly confessed, there is a responsibility beyond that which attaches to the rest of the world.
The first parable clearly was true when our Lord was on earth. It is very general, and would apply to the Lord in person or in spirit. Hence it may be said to be always going on; for we find in the second parable the Lord presented again, still sowing good seed: only here it is the "kingdom of heaven" that is likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. The first is Christ's work in publishing the word among men, while He was here below. The second rather applies to our Lord sowing by means of His servants; that is, the Holy Ghost working through them according to the will of the Lord while He is above, the kingdom of heaven being then set up. This at once furnishes an important key to the whole subject. But inasmuch as the matter of the first parable is very general, there is a great deal in all the moral teaching of it which applies as truly now as when our Lord was upon earth. "A sower went forth to sow" - a weighty truth indeed. It was not thus that the Jews looked for their Messiah. The prophets bore witness of a glorious ruler, who would establish His kingdom in their midst. No doubt there were plain predictions of His suffering as well as of His exaltation. Our parable describes neither suffering nor outward glory; but a work carried on by the Lord, of a distinct character from anything the Jew would naturally draw from the bulk of the prophecies. Nevertheless, our Lord, I conceive, was alluding to Isaiah. It is not exactly the gospel of grace and salvation to the poor, wretched, and guilty, but it is one who, instead of coming to claim the fruits of the vineyard set up in Israel, has to begin an entirely new work. A sower going forth to sow marks evidently the commencement of that which did not exist before. The Lord is beginning a work not previously known in this world. "And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up." That was clearly the most desperate case of all. It was null and void, not because of any fault of the seed, but from the destructive agency of the fowls which devoured what was sown.
Next we have, "Some [that] fell upon stony (rocky) places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth." There was a more hopeful appearance in this case. The word was received, but the ground was stony; there was no depth of earth. Appearances were very quick - "forthwith they sprung up." There is little or no sense of sin. All is taken in but too readily. "The plan of salvation" may be thought to be excellent; the enlightenment of the mind may be undeniable; but such an one has never measured his awful condition in God's sight. The good word of God is tasted, but the ground is rocky. Conscience has not been properly exercised. Whereas, in a real work of heart, conscience is the soil in which the word of God takes effect. There never can be a real work of God without a sense of sin. Where warm feelings are excited, but sin slurred over, it is the case spoken of here - the word received at once, but the ground remains really unbroken - rocky. There is no root because there is no depth of earth: consequently, "when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root they withered away."
But, further, "Some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them." This is another case; not exactly that wherein the heart received the word at once. And we should have as little confidence in the heart as in the head. The flesh differs in different individuals. Some may have more mind, and some more feeling. But neither can savingly receive the word of God, unless the Holy Ghost acts on the conscience and produces the sense of being utterly lost. Where this is the case, it is a real work of God, which sorrows and difficulties will only deepen. Those that received the seed among thorns are a class devoured by the anxieties of this age, and led away by the deceitfulness of riches, which choke the word, so that no fruit comes to perfection.
But now comes the good ground. "Other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (vers. 8, 9). The sower here is the Lord Himself, yet out of four casts of the seed, three are unsuccessful. It is only the last case where the seed bears ripe fruit; and even there the issue is chequered and hindered - "some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold" - natural things still hinder fruitfulness, more or less.
What a tale of man's heart and the world these parables disclose! Even where the heart does not refuse, but outwardly receives the truth, it can abandon it as quickly. The same will that makes a man gladly receive the gospel, makes him drop it in the face of difficulties. But, in some cases, the word does produce blessed effects. It fell upon good ground, and brought forth fruit indifferent degrees. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." A solemn admonition to souls, to look well to it whether or not they produce according to the truth they have received.
The disciples now come and say unto Him, "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?" and the Lord makes it an occasion to explain these things unto them. "He answered and said unto them, Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." The same parable would be just like the cloud of Israel in a former day - full of light to those within, full of obscurity to those without. Thus it is with the sayings of our Lord. So solemn was the crisis with unbelieving Israel now, that it was not His intention to give clearer light. Conscience was gone. They had the Lord in their midst, bringing in full light, and He was refused, especially by the religious leaders. He had now broken with them: here was the clue to His conduct. "To you it is given to know," etc. It was kept from the multitude, and this because they had already rejected the clearest possible proofs that Jesus was the Messiah of God. But, as He says here, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance." Such was the case with the disciples. They had already received His person, and now the Lord would supply with truth to lead them on. "But whosoever hath not" (the Christ-rejecting Israel), "from him shall be taken away even that he hath" - the Lord's bodily presence and the evidence of miracle would soon pass away. "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand" (ver. 13). That judicial sentence of darkness which Isaiah had pronounced upon them hundreds of years before, was now to be sealed, though the Holy Ghost still gives them a fresh testimony. And this very passage is afterwards quoted to mark that it is a finished thing with Israel. They loved darkness rather than light. What is the good of a light to one that shuts his eyes? Therefore would the light be taken away too. "But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired 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" (vers. 16, 17).
Then follows the explanation of the parable. We have the meaning of "the fowls of the air" given us. It is not left to any conjecture of our own. "When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom" (this was being preached then: it is not exactly the word of the gospel," but "of the kingdom") and understandeth it not," etc. In Luke it is not called "the word of the kingdom," nor is it said, "understandeth it not." It is interesting to observe the difference, because it shows the way in which the Holy Ghost has acted in this Gospel. Compare Luke 13. The first of these parables is given us in Luk_8:11. "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God" - not the word of the kingdom, but "of God." There is, of course, a great deal in common between the two; but the Spirit had a wise reason for using the different expressions. It would, rather, be giving an opportunity to an enemy, unless there had been some good grounds for it. I repeat that it is "the word of the kingdom" in Matthew, and "of God" in Luke. In the latter we have "that they should believe," and in the former, "that they should understand." What is taught by the difference? It is manifest that, in Matthew, the Holy Ghost has the Jewish people particularly in view; whereas in Luke, the Lord had particularly the Gentiles be. fore Him. They understood that there was a great kingdom which God was about to establish, and destined to swallow up all their kingdoms. With the Jews, already familiar with the word of God, their great point was understanding what God taught - which self-righteousness never understands. You might be controverted had you said to a Jew, You do not believe what Isaiah says; and a serious question came, Do you understand it? But for the Gentile, who had not the lively oracles, instead of setting up his own wisdom, the question was believing. what God said; and this is what we have in Luke. In Matthew, speaking to a people. who had the word already, the great thing was to understand it. This they did not. The Lord shows that, if they heard with their ears, they did not understand with their hearts. This difference, when connected with the different ideas and objects of the two Gospels, is alike interesting and instructive.
"When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not" (ver. 19). Another solemn truth we learn from this: the great thing that hinders spiritual understanding is religious prejudice. The Jews were charged with not understanding. They were not idolators or open infidels, but had a system of religion in their minds in which they had been trained from infancy, which darkened their intelligence of what the Lord was bringing out. So it is now. But among the heathen, though the state be morally evil, yet in the barren waste the word of God might be freely sown, and, by grace, be believed. That is not the case where people have been nurtured in ordinances and superstition: there the difficulty is to understand the word. "Then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in the heart." The answer to the fowls, in the first parable, as we saw, is the wicked one taking away the word of the kingdom as soon as it is sown.
"But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it" (ver. 20). There you have the heart, moved in its affections, but without exercise of conscience. Anon with joy the word is received. There is great gladness about it, but there it ends. It is only the Holy Ghost acting upon the conscience that gives what things are in God's sight. "Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended."
Then we have the thorny ground: "He also that received seed among the thorns is he. that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." There is a case that might have seemed promising for a time; but anxiety about this world, or the flattering ease of prosperity here below, rendered him unfruitful, and all is over. "But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it" (all through it is spiritual understanding); "which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
Now we come to the first of the similitudes of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the sower was the preparatory work of our Lord upon earth. "Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way" (vers. 24, 25) - exactly what has come to pass in the profession of Christ. There are two things necessary for the inroad of evil among Christians. The first is, the unwatchfulness of the Christians themselves. They get into a careless state, they sleep; and the enemy comes and sows tares. This began at an early epoch in Christendom. We find the germs even in the Acts, and still more in the Epistles. 1 Thessalonians is the first inspired epistle that the apostle Paul wrote; and the second was written shortly after. There he tells them that the mystery of iniquity was already at work; that the apostasy and the man of sin were to follow; and that when the lawlessness should be fully manifest (instead of working. secretly), then the Lord would put an end to the lawless one and all concerned. The mystery of iniquity is akin to the sowing of the tares spoken of here. Some time after, "when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit" - when Christianity began to make rapid strides in the earth, "then appeared the tares also." But it is evident that the tares were sown almost immediately after the good seed. No matter what the work of God is, Satan is always close upon its heels. When man was made, he listened to the serpent, and fell. When God gave the law, it was broken even before it was committed into the hands of Israel. Such is always the history of man.
So the mischief is done in the field, and never repaired. The tares are not for the present taken out of the field: there is no judgment of them. Does this mean that we are to have tares in the Church. If the kingdom of heaven meant the Church, there ought to be no discipline at all: uncleanness of flesh or spirit, swearers, drunkards, adulterers, schismatics, heretics, antichrists, would have to be allowed within it. Here is the importance of seeing the distinction between the Church and the kingdom. Of the tares now in the kingdom of heaven the Lord says: "Let both grow together until the harvest" (ver. 30), that is, till He come in judgment. Were the kingdom of heaven the same as the Church, it would, I repeat, amount to no less than this: that no evil, let it be ever so flagrant or plain, is to be put out of the Church till the day of judgment. We see, then, the importance of making these distinctions, which too many despise. They are all-important for truth and holiness; nor is there a single word of God that we can do without.
But this parable has nothing to do with the question of Church communion. It is "the kingdom of heaven" that is spoken of - the scene of the confession of Christ, whether true or false. Thus Greeks, Copts, Nestorians, Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, are in the kingdom of heaven; not believers only, but all who outwardly profess Christ's name. Some may be immoral or heretical, yet are not to be put out of the kingdom of heaven. But would it be right to receive ouch at the table of the Lord? God forbid! The Church (the assembly of God) and the kingdom of heaven are two different things. A person falling into open sin is not to be allowed in Church communion; but you cannot put him out of the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it could only be done by taking away his life; for the rooting up of the tares involves this. And this is what worldly Christianity did fall into, in no very long space of time after the apostles were departed from the earth. Temporal punishments were brought in for discipline; laws were made for the purpose of handing over the refractory to the subservient civil power. If they did not honour the so-called church, they were not to be suffered to live. Thus, the very evil our Lord had been guarding the disciples against came to pass: and the emperor Constantine used the sword to repress ecclesiastical offenders. He and his successors introduced temporal punishments to deal with the tares, to try and root them up. Take the church of Rome, where you have .;o thoroughly the confusion of the Church with the kingdom of heaven: they claim, if a man is a heretic, to hand him over to the courts of the world to be burnt; and they never confess or correct the wrong, because they pretend to be infallible. Supposing that their victims even were tares, this is to put them out of the kingdom. If you root up a tare from the field, you kill it. There may be men outside profaning the name of God; but we must leave them for God to deal with.
For Christian responsibility towards those who surround the Lord's table we have full instructions in what is written about the Church. "The field is the world;" but the Church only embraces those who are members of Christ's body. Take 1 Corinthians, where the Holy Ghost gives us the order of God's house and its discipline. Supposing some there are guilty of unrepented sin; such persons are not to be owned, while they are going on in that sin. A real saint might fall into open sin, but the Church, knowing it, is bound to intervene to express God's judgment about the sin. Were they deliberately to allow such an one to come to the Lord's table, they would in effect make the Lord a party to that sin. The question is not whether the person be converted or not. If unconverted, men have no business in the Church; if converted, sin is not to be winked at. The guilty are not put out of the kingdom of heaven; they are to be put out of the Church. So that the teaching of the word of God is most plain as to both these truths. It is wrong to use worldly punishments to deal with a wicked person in spiritual matters. I may seek the good of his soul, and maintain God's honour with regard to sin, but this is no reason for using worldly punishment. The unconverted are to be judged by the Lord at His appearing. This is the teaching of the parable of the tares; and it gives a very solemn view of Christianity. There is a remedy for evil which enters the Church, but not yet for evil in the world.
This is the only Gospel containing the parable of the tares. Luke gives the leaven. Matthew has the tares also. It particularly teaches patience for the present, in contrast with Jewish judicial dealings, as well as with their just expectation of a cleared field under the reign of Messiah. The Jews would say, Why should we allow enemies, ungodly heretics? Even when our Lord was here below, and some Samaritans received Him not, James and John wished to command fire to come down from heaven to consume them. But the Lord had not then come for judgment, but to save. The judgment of the world must wait for His return.
But we have further instruction. "Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into My barn" (ver. 30). Thus the heavenly saints are to be gathered into the Lord's barn, to be taken out of the earth to heaven. But "the time of the harvest" implies a certain period occupied with the various processes of ingathering. It is not said that the wheat is to be bound in bundles in order to be taken to heaven. There is no intimation of any special preparatory work about the saints before they are taken up. But there is such a dealing of God with the tares. The angels are to gather the tares in bundles before the Lord clears them out of the field. I do not pretend to say how that will be, or whether the system of associations in the present day may not pave the way for the final action of the Lord as regards the tares. But the principle of worldly association is growing apace.
The parable of the wheat-field had fully shown, what must have been an unexpected blow to the thoughts of the disciples, that the opening dispensation would, as regards man's maintaining the glory of God, fail as completely as the past one. Israel had dishonoured God; they had wrought, not deliverance, but shame and confusion in the earth; they had failed under law, and would reject grace so thoroughly that the King would be obliged to send His armies to destroy those murderers and burn up their city. But if there was to be a new work in gathering disciples to the name of Jesus by the word preached to them; was that also to be spoiled in the hands of man? The salvation of souls is indeed secure in God's hands; but the trial of what is committed to man's responsibility turns out now, as ever, a complete failure. Man came short of the glory of God in Paradise, and outside he corrupted his way and filled the earth with violence. Afterwards God chose a people to put them to the test, and they broke down. And now came the new trial: What would become of the disciples who professed the name of Christ? The answer has been given: "While men slept, the enemy sowed tares;" and the solemn announcement declares that no zeal on their part could remedy the evil. They might be faithful and earnest themselves; but the evil that has been done by the introduction of the tares - false professors of Christ's name - will never be eradicated. The Lord evidently speaks of the vast field of Christian profession, and of the sad fact that evil was to be introduced from the very beginning; and, once brought in, it would never be turned out till the Lord Himself returns to judgment, and by His angels gathers the tares in bundles to burn them, while the wheat is gathered into the barn.
If the Church is in our thoughts in reading Matthew 13, we shall never understand the chapter. "The field is the world" - the sphere where the name of the Lord is professed, and extending much beyond what could be called the Church. There might be, and are, many persons who would call themselves Christians, and yet show by their ways that there was no real faith in them. These are called "tares." There are many, whom nobody believes to be born of God, who, nevertheless, would be shocked if they were regarded as infidels. They acknowledge Christ as the Saviour of the world, the true Messiah, but it is as entirely inoperative upon their souls, as theirs was who believed in Christ when they saw the miracles which He did (Joh_2:23). Jesus does not commit Himself to such now any more than He did then.
The next parable intimates that the evil would not be merely the intermingling of a false profession, but something quite different would surely follow. It might be connected with the tares, and grow out of them; but another parable was required to set it forth. Beginning with the smallest nucleus, most humble as regards this world, there was to be that which would assume vast proportions in the earth, which would strike its roots deeply among the institutions of men, and rise up into a system of vast power and earthly influence. This is the mustard-seed springing into a great tree, into whose branches the birds of the air come and lodge. These last the Lord had already explained as the wicked one, or his emissaries. (Comp. vers. 4 and 19.) We must never depart from the meaning of a symbol in a chapter unless there be some fresh and express reason for it, which in this case does not appear. Thus we have the smallest of all the seeds that grow into anything like a tree; and from this very small beginning there comes a stem with branches sufficiently capacious to yield a shelter and a home to the birds of the air. What a change for the Christian profession! The destroyer is now housed in its bosom!
Then follows the third parable, again of a different nature. It is not a seed, good or bad. It is not the small now becoming lofty and large, a protective power in the earth, and for what? But here we find that there would be the spread of doctrine within - "leaven," used here, as well as elsewhere, for doctrine. For instance, we have "the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees," which our Lord called ,leaven." The thought here is to symbolize that which spreads and permeates what is exposed to it. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened" (ver. 33). The three measures of meal are not legitimately assumed to mean the whole world, as many have done, and still do.* It is not usual to find the truth make such way. We know what the heart is, and we may infer that the doctrine which is so thoroughly spread under the name of Christ must be very far departed from its original purity when it becomes welcome to masses of men. We have, moreover, seen the tares - which do not imply anything good - mingled with the wheat. We have had the mustard-seed grown into a tree, and strangely harbouring the birds of the air, which erst preyed on the seed that Christ sowed. Again, whenever "leaven" occurs symbolically in the word of God, it is never employed save to characterize corruption which tends to work actively and spread; so that it must not be assumed to be the extension of the gospel. The meaning, I doubt not, is a system of doctrine which fills and gives its tone to a certain given mass of men. On the other hand, the gospel is the seed - the incorruptible seed - of life, as being God's testimony to Christ and His work. Leaven has nowhere anything to do with Christ or giving life, but expressly the contrary. Hence there is not the smallest analogy between the action of leaven and the reception of life in Christ through the gospel. I believe that the leaven here sets forth the propagandism of dogmas and decrees, after that Christendom became a great power in the earth (answering to the tree - which was the case, historically, in the time of Constantine the Great). We know that the result of this was an awful departure from the truth. When Christianity grew into respectability in the world, instead of being persecuted and a reproach, crowds of men were brought in. A whole army was baptized at the word of command. Now the sword was used to defend or enforce Christianity.
* If we but turn to Scripture as its own interpreter, the "three measures of meal" in the parable would naturally refer us to the meal offerings prescribed in the law. They were to be food for the priests, eaten in the holy place, without leaven. See Lev_6:14-17, and 1Co_5:8.
"No meat (meal) offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven" (Lev_2:11) - the woman here in the parable is doing what the law strictly forbids. Leaven being always in Scripture a type of evil, putting it in the meal is introducing evil doctrine in the bread of God - the food of His people. See Joh_6:32-33.
The woman too in this parable should remind us of Eve leading "in the transgression"; and still more of "that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants," etc. (Rev_2:20) - again doing what is forbidden. See 1Ti_2:12-14. Why should commentators interpret leaven as good spreading out, or the gospel subduing the whole world? It is like the twelve in Luke IS: 31-34 to whom the Lord spoke of His rejection, His sufferings, death, and resurrection; but "they understood none of these things." In their mind the kingdom was about to be restored to Israel; so they could not understand the plainest words about Messiah's rejection. Preconceived ideas prevent the reception of most simply-expressed truth. Ed.
Observe, too, that thus the interpretation flows on harmoniously. We have parables devoted to distinct things, which may have a certain measure of analogy one to another, and yet set forth distinct truths in an order which cannot but commend itself to a spiritual, unprejudiced mind. Much depends on a, due understanding of that which is meant by "the kingdom of heaven." ' Let us not forget that it is simply the authority of the Lord in heaven acknowledged upon the earth. When it becomes a thing the world takes cognizance of as a civilizing power in the earth, it is no longer the mere field sown with good seed which the enemy may spoil with bad, but the towering tree, and the wide and deeply-working leaven. Such is the very unexpected disclosure which our Lord makes. The multitude might admire, but the wise would understand. The disciples needed to be instructed that there was to be a state of things wholly different from what they expected; that although the Messiah was come, He was going away; that, while He would be in the heavens, the kingdom would be introduced in patience, not power - mysteriously, and not yet to sight; and that therein the devil would be allowed to work just as before, only taking his usual advantage to spoil and corrupt, in a special way, the new truth and condition about to be introduced.
So far, then, these parables show the gradual growth of evil. First, there is the mingling of a little evil with a great deal of good, as in the case of the wheat field. Then the rising up of that which is high and influential from the lowly origin of early Christianity. Instead of having tribulation in the world, the christian body becomes a patron or benefactor, exercising authority in it, and the most aspiring of the world seeking to it for what they want. After that a great propagation of doctrine suited to worldly conditions follows, as the folly of Paganism and the narrowness of Judaism became the more apparent to men, and as their interests carried them with the new worldly system.
Mark a change now. The Lord ceases to address Himself to the multitude, who had been in view thus far. As it is said, "All these spake Jesus to the multitude: and without a parable spake He not unto them." But now Jesus sends the multitude away, and goes into the house. I would call your attention to this, because it divides the parables, and inaugurates a distinct set. The parables which follow were not such as the multitude could see or enter into. In the separation of these last three parables from the previous four, we have an analogy to those feasts set forth in Leviticus 23, where after the passover and the unleavened bread, the offering of the first-fruits and the feast of weeks following one another, you have an interruption; after which come the feasts of trumpets, of atonement, and, finally, of tabernacles. The apostle teaches us that Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us; so that we have to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread inseparably connected with it. Then we have the resurrection of Christ - the sheaf of first-fruits, followed by Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come." These feasts are accomplished in us Christians. But the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement, and the feast of tabernacles which follow the first four, it would be absurd to apply to the Church; their application will be to the Jews. Thus, as in the middle of Leviticus 23 the break indicates a new order of subjects, so in this chapter, where it is just as marked. And while the first parables apply to the outward profession of Christ's name, the final ones pertain especially and intimately to what concerns real Christians. The multitude could not enter into them. They were the secrets of the family, and, therefore, the Lord calls the disciples within, and there He unfolds all to them.
But before He enters upon a new subject, He gives further information on the former. The disciples ask Him, "Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field." Ignorant as they might be, still they had confidence in their Lord, and that what He had spoken He was willing to explain. "He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man: the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom: but the tares are the children of the wicked one" (vers. 37, 38). The Son of Man and the wicked one, it has been well remarked, are opposed to each other. As in the Trinity, we know there is a suited part which each blessed Person bears in their work of blessing, so the sad contrast appears in evil outside. As the Father brings out specially His love, and separates from the world through the revelation of it in Christ; as you have the Holy Ghost, in contrariety to the flesh, the great agent of all the Father's grace, counsels, and ways; so Scripture holds forth Satan always acting as the grand personal antagonist of the Son. The Son of God has come "that He might destroy the works of the devil." The devil makes use of the world to entangle people, to excite the flesh, stirring up the natural liking of the heart for present honour and ease. In opposition to all this, the Son of God presents the glory of the Father as the object for which He was working by the Holy Ghost.
Discrimination runs strongly through the Lord's explanation to the disciples in the house. In the first of the parables, the good is thoroughly separate from the evil, but in the last of the three all is merged into an undistinguished lump. At first, all was plain. On the one hand the Son of Man sows the good seed, and the result is the children of the kingdom. On the other hand, there is the enemy, and he is sowing his bad seed - false doctrines, heresies, etc.; and the result of this is the children of the wicked one. The devil has taken the opportunity of Christianity for making men worse than if there never had been any fresh and heavenly revelation. In God's sight, that which falsely bears the name of Christ is a more wicked thing than any other. Never has so much righteous blood been shed as by the hand of so-called religion, and from whom it shall be required. See Mat_23:34-36. Popery has been the full carrying out of this earthly religion. And every religious system of the world tends to persecute whatever falls not in with it. The bitterness and opposition towards those who are seeking to follow the Lord in our day is the same kind of thing that broke out into the horrors of the dark ages, and lingers still in the "holy office" of the inquisition when and where ever it holds up its head.
To continue: "The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels." "The world" inverse 38 must not be confounded with "the world" in verse 39. They are totally distinct words and things. "The world" inverse 39 means the age. It is a course of time, and not a geographical sphere. In verse 38 the sphere is intended, wherein the gospel goes forth; in verse 39 it is the space of time in which the gospel is either advancing or hindered by the enemy's power. The harvest is the consummation of the age, that is, of the present dispensation - the time while the Lord is absent, and the gospel is being proclaimed over the earth. Grace is actively going forth now. The only means which God employs to act upon souls are of a moral or spiritual sort. The angels introduce providential judgment; while the gospel lays hold of poor sinners to save them. The Lord intimates here that an end will be put to the present sending out of the word of the kingdom, and a day when the effects of Satan's working must be fully developed and judged. "The reapers are the angels." We have nothing to do with the judicial part, only with the spread of the good; the angels, with the judgment of the wicked. "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world." The same word is used for "world" in verse 40 as in verse 39. Unfortunately, our version gives only the same English word in all.
Many scriptures show a future time and state of things for the world totally different from what the gospel contemplates. I will refer to one or two in the prophets. Take Isaiah 11, which speaks first of our Lord under the figure of a branch out of the roots of Jesse. It is plain that this is true of Christ, whether at His first or second advent. He was born an Israelite, and of the family of David. And again, as to the Holy Ghost resting upon Him, we know that this was true of Him when He was a man here below: but in verse 4 we find another thing: "With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth." If you argue that this applies now, because in the kingdom of heaven the Lord acts upon the souls of the meek, etc., I ask you to read a few words more: ,,And He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." Is the Lord doing this now? Clearly not. Instead of slaying. the wicked with the breath of His lips, is He not converting the wicked by the word of His grace? - in entire contrast with what is described here. In Rev. 19 we have the same period of judgment, where the Lord is seen with a sword proceeding out of His mouth. It represents righteous judgment executed by the bare word of the Lord. As He spoke the world into being, He will speak the wicked into perdition. Taking this as the indubitable meaning of what is mentioned here in Isaiah, what follows? - a state of things quite unlike what we have now under the gospel: "Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
All this is not what we have now. Instead of the world being converted by preaching the gospel, Scripture emphatically declares that in the latter days perilous times should come; and that in the last times shall prevail, not the truth of Christ, but the lie of Antichrist (1 John 2); not the triumph of the good, but of the bad, till the Lord puts forth His own hand; and this is what is reserved for His appearing and kingdom. "He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." The Lord is not smiting the earth now. He has opened heaven: but by and by He will take the earth. In the Revelation you have the vision of the mighty angel, with his right foot upon the sea and the left on the earth. It is the Lord taking the whole universe under His own immediate government. Now the mystery of iniquity is left unjudged. Evil is allowed to go on rampant in the world. But this will not be for ever The mystery of God is to be finished. Then will begin this amazing change, "the regeneration," as our Lord styles it, when the Spirit of God shall be poured out, and the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But till these times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord, Scripture calls the intervening space the evil age. So in Gal_1:4, not the material world is meant, but the moral course of things, that is, "this present evil age." The new age, on the contrary, will be glorious, holy and blessed.
In the very next verse, of Isaiah 11, we have the restoration of God's ancient people foretold, the gathering in of all Israel as well as. of Judah. At the return from the Babylonish captivity such was not the case. A small fraction of Judah and Benjamin came back, and only a few individuals of Israel. The ten tribes are universally called "the lost tribes;" whereas, "It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. . . . And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea" - a thing that has never been done, nor anything like it. "And with His mighty wind shall He shake His hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of His people which shall be left from Assyria, like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt." Both in the Egyptian sea and in the Nile there be will this great work of God, outstripping what He did when He brought the people out the first time by Moses and Aaron.
This will be the age to come, but in the present age the tares and the wheat are to grow together till the harvest, which is the consummation of this age; and when it arrives, the Lord sends forth His angels, "and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." The severing then takes place: the tares are gathered and cast into a furnace of fire, and "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Mark the accuracy of the expression, I' Then shall they shine forth;" not "Then shall they be caught up." It will be a new age, in which is no mingling of the good and bad: but the gathering out of the wicked for judgment closes this age, in order that the good may be blessed in the next.
So here, we have the upper region, called the kingdom of the Father; and the lower, the kingdom of the Son of Man. "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels , and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." These are not even allowed to be on the earth, but are cast into a furnace of fire. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Both are "the kingdom of God." What a glorious prospect! Is it not a sweet thought that even this present scene of ruin and confusion is to be delivered? that God is to have the joy of His heart, not only in filling the heavens with His glory, but in the Son of Man honoured in the very place where He was rejected?
But let us now look at the next parable. The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field" (ver. 44). This is the first of the new parables within the house. The Lord is there showing, not the state of things found under the public profession of the name of Christ, but the hidden things, or those which require discernment. It is a treasure hid in a field, which a man finds and hides, and for joy thereof sells all that he hath and buys the field. I am aware that it is the habit of persons to apply this to a soul finding Christ. But what does the man in the parable do? He sells all that he has to buy the field. Is this the way for a man to be saved? If so, salvation is a question not of faith, but of giving up everything to gain Christ, which is not grace, but works carried to the utmost. When a man has Christ, he would doubtless give up everything for Him. But these are not the terms on which a man first receives Christ for his soul's need. But this is not all: "The field is the world." Am I to buy the world in order to obtain Christ? This only shows the difficulties into which we fall whenever we depart from the simplicity of Scripture. The Lord Himself confutes such an interpretation. He shows that there is one Man, one only, who saw this treasure in the midst of the confusion. It is Himself, who gave up all His rights in order that He might have sinners washed in His blood and redeemed to God; it was He who bought the world, in order to acquire the treasure He valued. The two things are distinctly presented in Joh_17:2, "As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him." There is the treasure: "As many as Thou hast given Him." He buys the whole, the outside world, in order to possess this hidden treasure.
But, moreover, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (vers. 45, 46). The parable of the hid treasure did not sufficiently convey what the saints are to Christ. For the treasure might consist of a hundred thousand pieces of gold and silver. And how would this mark the blessedness and beauty of the Church? The merchantman finds "one pearl of great price." The Lord does not see merely the preciousness of the saints, but the unity and heavenly beauty of the assembly. Every saint is precious to Christ; but 'He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it." That is what is seen here - "One pearl of great price." I do not in the least doubt that its spirit may be applied to every Christian; but I believe it is intended to set forth the loveliness of the Church in the eyes of Christ. It could not be fully said of a man awaking to believe the gospel, that he is seeking goodly pearls? And before conversion, the sinner is rather feeding on husks with the swine. Here it is one who seeks "goodly pearls," which no unconverted man ever really sought. There is no possibility of applying these parables except to the Lord Himself. How blessed it is that, in the midst of all the confusion which the devil has wrought, Christ sees in His saints a treasure, and the beauty of His Church, spite of all infirmities and failure!
Then we have all wound up by the parable of the net which is thrown into the sea (vers. 47-50). It is a figure used to remind us that our energies and desires must be directed after those who are floating about in the sea of the world. The net is cast into the sea, and gathers of every kind, "which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away." Who are "they"? Never do we find the angels gathering the good, but always severing the wicked for judgment. The fishers were men, like the servants in the first parable. But it is not only the gospel that we have here. The net gathers in of every kind. It is shown us that out of every class, before the Lord returns in judgment, there was to be a mighty operation of the Spirit through the fishers of men, gathering saints together in a way quite unexampled. May not the spirit of this be going on now? The gospel is going out with remarkable power over all lands. But there is another action - the gathering the good together and putting them into vessels. The bad are cast away; but this is not the end of them. "The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire." The angels' business is always with the wicked; the servants' with the good. The severing of the wicked from among the just is not the fishermen's work at all; and their casting of the bad away is not the same thing as the furnace of fire.*
* In a pamphlet "The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven" by F. W. Grant, the meaning of these three parables is made luminous. The "treasure hid in the field," setting forth Israel, Jehovah's "peculiar treasure" (Ps. 134: 4) - sought by the Lord, who acquires title over field and treasure by His humiliation and sufferings unto death; and now keeps the hidden treasure for a future day.
Then "the pearl of great price" - the Church which He loves and for which "He gave Himself," and will adorn Himself with it as His companion and bride, in heavenly glory.
Then "the net" cast into the Gentile sea after the Church is "caught up" to meet her Bridegroom-the Gospel of the Kingdom going out and gathering a multitude, to be sorted by the administrators of the government of God at the close of that brief age. We commend the pamphlet to the reader, also the "Numerical Bible" on the Gospels, by the same author. Ed.
In commenting on chapters 8 and 9 of our Gospel, some striking instances of displacement have been already pointed out. Thus the incidents of crossing the lake in the storm, of the cured demoniacs, of the raised daughter of Jairus, and of the woman healed on the way, belong, as matters of history, to the interval between the parables we have been lately occupied with and the despising of our blessed Lord, which our Evangelist proceeds to* set down next in order. I have sought to explain the principle on which, as I believe, the Holy Spirit was pleased to act in thus arranging the events, so as most vividly to develop our Lord's Messianic ministry in Israel, with His rejection and its consequences. Hence it is that the intervening facts having been inserted in that earlier portion, the unbelief of Israel in presence of His teaching naturally follows. He was in His own country and taught them in their synagogues; but the result, spite of astonishment at His wisdom and mighty works, is the scornful inquiry, "Is not this the carpenter's son? . . . And they were offended in Him." A prophet He is, but without honour in His own country and in His own house. The manifestation of glory is not denied; but Him in whom it was manifested, is not received according to God, but judged according to the sight and apprehensions of nature (vers. 54-58).