Among the seven parables which our Lord delivered about this time, there are two remarkably similar to each other in their general purport, but distinguished by some differences.
They are those of the man finding a hidden treasure in a field, and then going with joy to sell all that he had, in order to purchase the field, that it might become all his own. The other, that of a merchant travelling in search of precious stones, who, when be has met with one pearl of surpassing value—“a pearl of great price,” goes and sells all he has, all his previous acquisitions, in order to obtain it. The general similarity between the two parables is apparent, and both are founded on circumstances of frequent occurrence in Eastern life.
Thus, as to the treasure: owing to the insecurity of property in the East, from war and oppression, joined to the necessity of keeping valuable property in hand, for want of secure banks of deposit, the practice of hiding precious utensils and ornaments, money and jewels, has always been common in the East. Often it is built up into the walls of the owner’s house, often buried in fields and gardens. The latter is usually the resort in cases of instant emergency, such as the approach of an enemy; for any recent operation in the wall might be disclosed by the difference in the state of the plaster, whereas any recent disturbance of the soil is less easily detected, from the greater extent of space, and from its being easier to obliterate the traces of the operation—though we have heard of soldiers in taking possession of a town, diligently employing themselves in watering the gardens of the citizens, for the purpose of observing where the water sank most freely in, supplying the inference that the soil had there been recently loosened. The owner often is killed, and takes his secret with him; often he dies and makes no sign; often he goes away and returns no more. Hence, the soil and the buildings upon it contain great quantities of treasure, thus concealed in past times. This is well known, and is in fact often evinced by the accidental discovery of them; frequently by poor peasants when engaged in the labors of the field. It is this which makes the Orientals regard European travellers, exploring ancient sites and ruins, as engaged in treasure-seeking. Treasure-finding, indeed, occurs with sufficient frequency to exercise a distinct and strong influence upon the character of the people, who, in the depths of their misery and destitution, live in the feeling that they may at any time, “if God sees fit,” be in this way suddenly raised to a state of affluence.
The occupation of a travelling jeweler is still common in the East. He deals in precious stones and pearls, and travels widely in search of opportunities of making advantageous purchases or exchanges. In the course of these operations, it will sometimes happen that he meets with some rare and costly gem, for the sake of securing which he disposes of all his existing stock, and every article of valuable property he possesses, to raise the purchase-money.
Both these parables, and the whole series of seven to which they belong, are introduced by the formula, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto,” etc. It is therefore quite clear that they involve an inner and spiritual meaning; as is, indeed, further shown by the explanation which our Lord himself gave of the first of the series—that of the Sower.
The general meaning of the two to which we call attention is evident on the very surface—that the Gospel—salvation in and through Christ, the offer of eternal life—is the greatest and most inestimable blessing that man can find, to secure which is well worthy the sacrifice of all that he before possessed or counted precious.
The only essential difference between the two, is in the respective states of the men who find this rich possession.
The first finds the treasure unexpectedly, when he thought not of it, nor was indeed aware of its existence. This is the case of those who have not felt that man’s life has higher aims and objects than earth can offer—that there is a priceless truth for them, not taught in the world nor learned in books. But God has, by his spirit, made them “willing,” has opened their hearts to receive that which He designs to impart to them; and when the treasures of the Gospel are suddenly opened up, they are astonished by the splendor, and impressed with the surpassing value; and they feel ready to give up all that they have been accustomed to prize or value, “that they may win Christ, and be found in Him.” And this they do, not grudgingly nor of necessity, nor as striking a nice balance of loss and gain—but “with joy,” as is emphatically noted in the case of the man who found the treasure hid in the field. With joy, because
All the vain splendor that the world admires,”
its goods, its pleasures, its hopes, which before satisfied, or seemed to satisfy, the heart, have lost all relative value in their eyes—even as the lamp ceases to be of much account when the sun shines abroad; or even as the man who has stored himself with copper or brass, disburdens himself of it quickly when he discovers “the vein of silver.” or comes to “the place of gold.”
But the merchant was of another sort. He had distinctly set before his eyes the object of seeking goodly pearls.
He is of those who are left unsatisfied by all that the world can give, and by all that the systems teach. He is convinced that there is something better and brighter which he has not reached, some great truth he has not learned, and which must, when found, be more effectual than aught he has yet attained, to fill, and save, and sanctify the soul. So urged by an inward impulse—which is itself from God—he seeks diligently for that essential truth—that absolute good for the sons of men, which he knows must exist, and which he feels that he must find or perish. He travels far in pursuit of it; and in the way he gathers many precious things—precious to him in his actual state, because they encourage his pursuit by affording some glimmering rays caught from the priceless gem he seeks. But he knows that not these separately or together, are the Pearl of his desire, for they do not satisfy his wants—they leave him still craving for something more and better, to fill entirely the void within. But when at last he has caught view of Christ, in all the glory of his grace and goodness—in all the fulness of his salvation, he knows he has found the real object of all his researches—the fruition of all his aspirations. It is the Pearl of great price. He knows well its value. He has sought it too long—he has been harassed too often by glittering substitutes, not to know that he has now found that which alone can make life a gladness to him, by giving rest to his soul. His search is ended. The Pearl is found. And he feels that rather than not win it—rather than lose it when won—he could gladly give his body to be burned, and his goods to feed the poor, and cast all his old systems and fine fancies to the moles and to the bats.
Many are kept from seeking the ways that lead to Christ, by an apprehension of the terrible difficulty of that self-annulment which the coming to Him involves, and which is signified by the leaving all to follow Him—the selling all to purchase the treasure-field and the pearl. But this is the conception of those who have not come. To come to Him is to love Him; and to love this self-annulment is easy; for although adverse and bitter to the unloving, it is most congenial to the loving nature. If it were possible for the unloving to take Christ’s yoke and bear his burden, that yoke would be hard and the burden heavy; it is love that makes his yoke easy and his burden light.