Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE PARABLE. A great principle underlies the whole parable, and is revealed in all its parts, viz.: That the success or failure of preaching is partly dependent on the character and conduct of the hearers. In the present instance the Sower is Christ - the greatest of preachers; and the seed is the word of his gospel - the best of all teaching. Yet there are no uniformly good results, but a variety of issues, from utter failure to a bountiful harvest. Then the preacher is not always to blame if his preaching is barren, and the doctrine is not to be accounted false simply because in some cases it does not produce good effects. The hearer is responsible. He has freewill, and he may reject the highest truths of the greatest teacher, or he may receive them with different degrees of profit.
II. THE BAD SOULS. These represent three characters.
1. Dull indifference. Instead of being receptive soil for the seed of truth, the heart of the worldly man is hard. The hardening is the result of the traffic of innumerable earthly interests. Troops of these secular concerns trample the heart into a highway. They may be harmless in themselves and even necessary, but the full surrender to them is ruinous to the spiritual life. The heart that is given up to the world is a prey to the ravages of Satan.
2. Sentimental fervour. The rocky ground is hot, and it provokes quick growth. Sentimental people show a passion of devotion. But they have no reservoirs of strength. When circumstances are adverse they are weak and they yield.
3. Stifling worldliness. In the third case more progress is made, and yet there is no harvest. Here we have not the gross worldliness which produces indifference from the beginning as in the first case. There is a competition between the spiritual and the worldly, and the latter wins by reason of its rank vigour.
III. THE BAD SOILS.
1. A common fruitfulness. All the good soils bring forth fruit. This is the one result looked for. If it appears, we have the joy of harvest. Christ's preaching was. not a failure, though many, failed to profit by it. If no good comes from preaching, the fault may not lie wholly with the hearers. The gospel of Christ brings in a rich harvest of souls.
2. A variation of productiveness. All who profit by the truth of the gospel do not profit equally. It is not enough that some fruit is obtained. The aim should be for an abundant return. The seed is capable of enormous productiveness; there is no limit to the possibilities of Divine grace if only we will let them be realized in our own lives. - W.F.A.
statements are plain. The deep, unfathomable fact underlying the quotation from Isaiah (vers. 14, 15) is not altogether free from offering some analogy to the subject of the sin against the Holy Ghost (see our homily, supra), "not to be forgiven, in this world nor in the world to come." In the very pleasantest paths of the gospel the inscrutable meets us, and stands right across our way; yet not at all to destroy us, but to order knowledge, faith, and reverence. It is plain, from the express assertion of Christ, that it is to be regarded by us as some of the highest of our privilege, to have authoritative revelation of matters that may be called knowledge in "things present or things to come," which may be nevertheless utterly inscrutable. The absolutely mysterious in the individual facts of our individual life, and for which, nevertheless, the current of that life does not stand still, may stand in some sort of analogy to these greater phenomena and greater pronouncements of Divine knowledge and foreknowledge. The promise is not to be found - it were an impossible promise to find - that the marvels of Heaven's government of earth should be all intelligible to us, or should be all of them oven uttered in revelation. But some are uttered; they are written, and there, deep graven, they lie from age to age, weather beaten enough, yet showing no wear, no attrition, no obliteration of their hieroglyphic inscription - hieroglyphic not for their alphabet, but confessedly for their construction, and the vindicating of it. Note also, in introduction, that the seven parables related in this chapter, a rich cluster, certainly appear from internal evidence (alike the language of the evangelist, ver. 3; that of the disciples in their question, ver. 10; and that of Christ himself, vers. 9, 13) to have been the first formally spoken by Christ. Of the beginning of parables, therefore, as of the beginning of miracles, we are for some reason specifically advised. Notice -
I. THE PERFECT NATURALNESS, FAMILIAR HOMELINESS, EXQUISITE APTNESS, OF THE MATERIAL OUT OF WHICH THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PARABLE IS MADE. Seed and soil; Sower and sowing; and, to throw moving life into the picture, the touch thrown in of the sower "going forth" to sow.
II. THE SPECIFIC SUBJECT OF THIS PARABLE - AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, i.e. THE WILL OF GOD "DONE IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN." Such an illustration might be given very variously. The view might be taken from many a point of vantage, and as the kingdom should be found growing or grown at many a date. This Christ might have given from all his stores of knowledge, and his true gift, true possession, of foresight. He might have shown it in the early days of martyrs; be might have shown it when Constantine proclaimed it the kingdom of Europe, and something beside; he might have shown it as Christendom projects it now; or he might have shown it even as glimpses - so strange are they that we are frightened to fix our gaze on them - are flashed before our doubting vision in the wonderful Book of the Revelation. But that which Jesus did really choose to give was one of a more present, practical character. It was, as one might suppose from very first glance, an illustration of sowing time. The sowing time of God's truth, God's will, God's love and grace, in the midst of a hard, and unprepared, and shallow, and ill-preoccupied world - with nevertheless some better, some more promising material, in it.
III. THE ILLUSTRATION ITSELF IN DETAIL. It consists of the statement of the ways in which men would act on the "hearing" of the "Word of God." Four leading ways are described.
1. That of the man who is said (in Christ's own interpretation of his parable) "not to understand" the Word spoken; i.e. he has no sympathy with it, he possesses no instinct for it, finds awakened within him no response whatever. This is the man whose receptive state amounts to nothing. As the trodden path (all the more trodden and more hard as it is comparatively narrow) across the ploughed field is approached again and again by the bountifully flinging hand of the sower, as he paces the acres, even it receives of the good seed, but its callous surface finds no entrance for it, offers it no fertilizing or even fertilized resting place, and yet others, who at least better know its value, for whatsoever reason, see it, seize it, and bear it off.
2. That of the man who "anon with joy receives" the Word. But it is a vapid and shallow joy. It does not last, it does not grow; its very root withers. The coating of hardness is not, as in the callous pathway, visible to the eye at first, for it is just concealed and covered over by a slightest layer of earth, just below which the hardness is not simply like that of "rock," but it is rock itself. There is nothing that has such a root wherewith to root itself as the Word of God, and this needs deep earth. Not the birds of the air, not Satan and his evil emissaries, take this seed away, before ever it could show a symptom of its own vital force, at any rate; this has shown its vitality, and has detected, discovered, and laid ruinously bare to sight the unsustaining, because itself unsustained, power to feed life, of that other element, that other essential in the solemn matter.
3. That of the man "who hears the Word, but the cares of this world, and the [seductive] deceitfulness of riches, and the [crowding] desires of other things," i.e. other things than the Word, "choke that Word, and it becometh unfruitful," or, if not unfruitful altogether, "it bringeth no fruit to perfection." It is the seed, still the good seed, lost, wasted, mocked of its glorious fruit, because that same liberal, scattering, Sower's hand has not grudged it, to earth, that is all the while attesting its own richness, quality, force, by what is growing out of it, but is untilled, undressed, unweeded - thorns, briers, brambles, and all most precocious growths suffered to tyrannize and usurp its best energies! How often have men moralized, and justly, that the cleverness of the sinner, and his wisdom in his generation, and his dexterity and resources when pushed to the last extremities, would have made the saint, and the eminent saint, had his gifts, instead of being so prostituted, so miserably misdirected, been turned in the right direction, fixed on the right objects! But short far of flagrant vice, true it is that the absorbing things and the seductive things and the crowding competition of desires of things of this world, have, millions of times untold, choked the Word. No room, no time, no care, no energy, has been left for the things of eternal value, immortal wealth, present holiness.
4. That of the man who "heareth, and understandeth, who also beareth fruit;" or again, "who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keeps it, and brings forth fruit with patience." It is the seed, that pricelessly good seed, which now at last has found its appropriate earth. It falls not on the hard pathway; it falls not on the treacherous, deceptive, depthlessness, all radiant with light and sun though it be; it falls not on the soil bearing at the same time incontestable evidence of two things - its own power to grow, and its own doomed state to grow the things "whose end is to be burned." It fails "into the good ground." We are in the presence of the mystery, not of "who made us to differ," but of how and why he who made us to differ, did so. The practical part of the question is plain forevery one who has an eye to see. Every man must give account of himself at the last; and every one must now prepare for that account. What sign of "goodness," what slightest germ of "goodness," what instinct, as it may seem, and power of "goodness," any man's heart, passing thought, life may just suggest - if it be but like a suggestion - must be reckoned with now, improved now, solemnly consecrated now, and the mystery will still for the present be left mystery. But the facts and the results and the blessedness will speak for themselves. And the kingdom of heaven be receiving its fairer and fairest illustration, instead of its darker and darkest illustrations. That kingdom will be the more a "coming" kingdom. - B.
action was parabolic. The pious Quesnel remarks, "We see here a representation of the Church, which consists of people united with their pastors. These, being more exposed to violent tossings and storms, are, as it were, in a ship, while those continue at ease on the shore. Foremost among the parables uttered is that of the sower (see Mark 4:13). It is afterwards interpreted, Let us view it -
I. AS TO THE SOWING. Under this head we have:
1. The seed.
(1) This is the saving truth of God. In the interpretation it is styled the Word of the kingdom" (ver. 19; see also Mark 4:14).
(2) That truth, like a seed, has a body. The earlier enshrinement of the saving truth was the letter of the Sinai covenant. This is called "the body of Moses" (see Jude 1:9). Now it comes to us in the Law from Zion. This is also called "the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Luke 24:47).
(3) The truth, like a seed, has a germinant principle. It is a living thing. The Spirit of God is the life of the Word. In the energy of the Spirit it is that the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul."
2. The Sower.
(1) "The Sower is the Son of man." So we have the interpretation in the corresponding parable of the tares (see ver. 37). The Son of man is the Word in person. The character of the Sower belongs to him, as he is the Author of all truth.
(2) The Son of man sows the Word of the kingdom by his servants.
(a) Apostles. These were immediately commissioned.
(b) Ministers. He provided for a succession of labourers separated to this great work.
(c) Disciples. A dispensation of the gospel is committed to every believer.
(3) As the Sower the Lord is gone forth. He has sown the truth in every age of the world. He carries the gospel into every land. He inseminates his truth in the mind of every child of man (John 1:9).
3. The soil.
(1) This is the heart of the hearer. The interpretation makes this also plain.
(2) He that made the seed made also the soil; and the Word and the heart are corelated. In the Bible there is food forevery faculty of the mind. It has science for the reason. It has poetry for the imagination. It has history for the understanding. It has prophecy for the anticipative faculties. It has doctrines for the faith. It has promises for the hope. It has assurances for the love.
(3) But the soil of the heart should be prepared for the reception of the seed of truth.
(a) It should be ploughed and harrowed and crushed with conviction and grief and sorrow for sin.
(b) It should also be weeded and cleaned by a thorough reformation and amendment.
(c) It should be dressed by the holy excitements of faith and hope.
(4) The reception depends upon the recipient. There are various kinds of reception. There are various degrees of reception.
II. AS TO THE YIELD.
1. The seed is wasted on the trampled soil.
(1) The allusion is to the beaten footpaths in cornfields. When the seed falls upon such a surface it cannot sink. It is therefore liable to be trodden underfoot (cf. Luke 8:5). It is also liable to be carried away by the birds. In his 'Travels in Palestine,' Buckingham has the following: "We ascended an elevated plain where husbandmen were sowing, and some thousands of starlings covered the ground, as the wild pigeons do in Egypt, laying a heavy contribution on the grain thrown into the furrows, which are not covered by harrowing as in Europe."
(2) The careless and unawakened are here described. They "hear the Word of the kingdom, but understand it not" (see ver. 19); i.e. they do not lay it to heart. The defect is moral. Note: Satan has diminished power where the truth is understood in the heart.
(3) Understanding in the sense of intellectual apprehension is important. What our Lord means is to "understand with the heart," or to receive the truth in love. Note: The love of the truth is the soil suitable to the reception of the seed of the kingdom.
(4) The love or goodness received from the Lord through parents and otherwise in early life is often so trampled upon by the practical errors of later years that the heart becomes hardened into unconcern for eternal life.
(5) The seed that falls into such a heart is carried away by the devil, whose agents are compared to the "birds of the air." To forget the Creator, whom we were taught to "remember" in our youth, is one of the temptations of early manhood. Thoughts of light pleasures or of vain philosophy "catch away" that which pious hands have sown. The careless heart is the devil's thoroughfare.
2. The seed is wasted on superficial soil.
(1) The "rocky places where they had not much earth" are places where the rock lies under the scanty surface (see Luke 8:6). Such places represent the heart of the hearer who will at once receive the Word with gladness, but "having no root in himself, but dureth for a while" (vers. 20, 21).
(2) The seed which quickly germinates in the slight but genial soil comes to a weak maturity quickly under favourable conditions. "In Palestine, during the seed time in November, the sky is generally overspread with clouds. The seed then springs in stony places. But when the sun dissipates the clouds, having outgrown its strength, it is quickly dried away" (Rosenmuller). Note: What is swallowed without manducation is not perfectly digested. The ready hearer is not always the best fruit bearer (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Many endure "for a season," but not "to the end" (cf. Matthew 10:22; Galatians 5:7).
(3) The failure is "because they have no root in themselves." They have no fixed principles in their judgments. They have no rooted habits in their good affections. "The lack is not in the soil, but in careful husbandry (Trench). The shallow are often the first to receive the good, as they are also to receive the evil; but they are fickle and unreliable.
(4) If Nature has her zephyrs, dews, and tempered sunshine, so has she her floods, tempests, and Scorching heats. So has providence its tribulations and persecutions." No heavenly plant can be reared without these. The plant that cannot endure them must perish.
3. The seed is wasted that falls among thorns.
(1) The soil here is neither deficient nor barren. That which can nourish briars can nourish something better. There are those who want not capacity, but culture. Not only must the wheat be sown; the thorns also must be rooted out. There are studious and exemplary persons who do not examine themselves in order to eradicate the evils of their neglected hearts.
(2) The neglect of the briar is fatal to the wheat. The overgrowth of "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" is often more disastrous than "tribulations and persecutions." Grace is more needed in prosperity than in adversity.
(3) "The deceitfulness of riches" is a significant phrase. It suggests:
(a) That riches promise more than they give.
(b) That men are readily deluded by them.
How plausible is the suggestion to one who is "making haste to be rich," that it is prudent to make provision for the future! They do not reflect that it is still more prudent to make provision for the future life. How plausible, that to increase wealth is to increase ability to do good! The effect upon the disposition to do good is left out of the question. The appetite for accumulating becomes more voracious and the liberality more stinted as men become more wealthy.
(4) Luke's version adds, "the pleasures of this life." Riches encourage the pursuit of these by furnishing the means for their gratification. Luke adds, "the lust of other things," such as desires after honour, distinction, show, and the praise of men.
(5) These things, so esteemed among men, are by Christ described as "briars," "thorns," "weeds."
4. But the Sower has encouragement.
(1) Some of the seed of the kingdom finds its way into "good and honest hearts" (see Luke 8:15) - hearts prepared by Divine grace (see Acts 16:14). Ground made good by ploughing weeding, and dressing.
(2) Note the gradation in respect to growth.
(a) In the careless and unawakened the effect is nil.
(b) The superficial readily accept the truth, profess it, but, discovering that the cross must go before the crown, renounce the crown to avoid the cross. "Swift to come, swift to go."
(c) In the third class the Word sinks deeper, and gives more promise by abiding "persecutions and tribulations." They fail before the subtle power of the world. Note: We may be better than our neighbours and yet fall short of heaven.
(d) But the fourth class receive the Word, retain it, and come to fruitfulness. The fruit-bearers are the genuine disciples (see John 15:8).
(3) Note now the gradation in respect to fruit bearing. The return is in tens - three tens, six tens, ten tens. Tithes of produce are the Lord's. Our riches are what we bring to God. Ten, including under it all units, the factors of all values, was by the ancients taken as a symbol of richness and fulness. As there are degrees of fruitfulness, so will there be degrees of reward. - J.A.M.
impervious, often shallow, often dirty.
I. "SOME SEEDS FELL BY THE WAYSIDE, AND THE FOWLS CAME AND DEVOURED THEM." The spiritual analogue is said to be in him "who heareth the Word, but understandeth it not. The beaten footpath and the cart track have their uses, but they grow no corn. The seed may be of the best quality, but for all purposes of sowing you might as well sprinkle pebbles or shot. So there is a hearing which keeps the Word entirely outside. It does not even enter the understanding. It rouses no inquiry, provokes no contradiction. You have occasion sometimes to mention a fact to a friend which should alter all his purpose, but you find he has not taken it in. So, says our Lord, there are hearers who do not take in what is said; their understanding is impervious, impenetrable. They hear because this has come to be one of the many employments with which they fill up their time, but they have never considered why they should do so, or what result they should look for. Or there may be a slowness and cold frostiness of nature which prevents the seed from fructifying. The proposals made suggest nothing to the wayside hearer. In some cases the seed apparently lost for years is quickened and brings forth fruit, but in this case never.
II. THE SECOND FAULT IS SHALLOWNESS. The sprinkling of soil on the surface of the rock, where the seed quickly springs, and for the same reason quickly decays. There is not depth of soil for any time to be spent in rooting. The shallow hearer is distinguished by two characteristics - he straightway receives the Word, and he receives it with joy. The man of deeper character receives it with seriousness, reverence, trembling, foreseeing the trials he will be subjected to. But while these are pondering the vastness of the revelation and the majesty of the hope, and striving to forecast all the results in and upon them, hesitating because they would receive the Word for eternity or not at all, the superficial man has settled the whole matter out of hand, and he who yesterday was known as a scoffer is today a loud-voiced child of the kingdom. These men are almost certainly taken to be the most earnest; you cannot see the root, and what is seen is shown in greatest luxuriance by them. But the same nature which made them susceptible to the gospel and quickly responsive makes them susceptible to pain, suffering, hardship, and easily defeated. When consequences have to be faced they give way. The question of how these shallow natures can be saved hardly falls within the parable, but it may be right to say a man's nature may be deepened by the relationships and conflicts of life. Much deepening of character is effected in passing through life.
III. THE THIRD FAULT IS WHAT IS TECHNICALLY KNOWN AS DIRT. The soil can only support a certain amount of vegetation, and every living weed means a choked blade of corn. This is a picture of the preoccupied heart, the rich vigorous nature occupied with so many other interests that only a small part is available for giving effect to Christ's ideas. Their interest is real, but there are so many other cares and desires that the result is scarcely discernible. The good crop is not the one with the greatest density of vegetation, but where all is wheat. Most soils have a kind of weed congenial, and the weeds here specified are the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches," the former being merely the poor man's species of the latter Among rich and poor alike you will find many who would be left without any subject of thought and any guiding principle in action, if you took from them anxiety about their own position in life. It is not enough to put aside distracting thoughts. Cutting down the thorns won't do; still less holding them aside till the seed be sown. It is vain to hope for the only right harvest of a human life if your heart is sown with worldly ambitions, a greedy hasting to be rich, an undue love of comfort, a true earthliness of spirit. One seed only must be sown in you, and it will produce all needed diligence in business as well as all fervour of spirit. There is one important distinction between material and moral sowing. Man is possessed of free will, the power of checking to some extent natural consequences. Therefore the gospel is to be preached to every creature, and we may be expected to bring to the hearing of it a soft, deep, clean soil of heart - what Luke calls "an honest and good heart." There will be differences of crop even among those who bring good hearts, but wherever the Word is held fast and patiently cared for, there the life wilt produce all that God cares to have from it. But even the honest heart is not enough unless we keep the Word. The sower must be at pains to cover in the seed and watch that it be not taken away. So the hearer loses his labour unless his mind goes back on what he has heard, and he sees that he has really got hold of it. We have all heard all that is necessary for life and godliness; it remains that we make it our own, that it secures a living root in us and in our life. We must bear it in mind, so that all that comes before us may throw new light on it and give it further hold on us. - D.
I. TO EVINCE THE SPIRITUALITY OF SAVING TRUTH.
1. It is a mystery to be revealed.
(1) The universe is dual, having material and spiritual complements. Between these there are wonderful correspondences. There are, therefore, similitudes in abundance in the visible to illustrate the spiritual.
(2) Yet we cannot, by natural reason unaided, attain to the knowledge of the spiritual. We know not how to apply the similitudes.
(3) Revelation from God is therefore necessary to supply this need. "The things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God."
2. It is still mystery when revealed.
(1) In its doctrine. God manifested in the flesh is the great mystery of godliness. Connected with the incarnation are the awful mysteries of the passion and death of Christ. And with these, again, the resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost.
(2) In its experience. What a blessed mystery is the justification of a sinner before God! Then his adoption, regeneration, and sanctification. And finally his resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:51).
3. The revelation is blessed.
(1) Saving truth is the highest truth. The things of God are the grandest things. The Godward side of all things is their nobler side. The things of God are the things of the soul. These are as superior to the things of the body as mind is superior to matter.
(2) The gospel is the fuller revelation of the transcendent truth. Of this the "prophets and righteous men" of earlier times had glimpses which whetted their desire to see the brighter day (cf. Hebrews 11:40; 1 Peter 1:9-12). The "eyes" of the disciples were "blessed" in beholding the Person of Messiah (see Luke 2:30). Their "ears" were "blessed" in listening to his wonderful doctrine.
(3) In these privileges the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest of the prophets (see Matthew 11:11). And we are no less favoured than the first disciples. For there is still the personal manifestation of the Son of God to the believing heart (see John 14:21).
II. TO LIMIT THE REVELATION OF THE SAVING TRUTH.
1. It was to hide it from the false.
(1) The disciples perceived that in using the parable Jesus intended to conceal his meaning, and this prompted their question. The answer confirmed their suspicion.
(2) It also showed that it was a judgment upon unbelief. Jesus did not at first discourse in parables. He adopted this method after his message had been refused. The Pharisees had seen the grandest miracles; they had heard the noblest doctrine; they were only moved to rancour. Now he abandons them to their obduracy. Pharaoh for a long time hardened his heart; then God hardened it for him (see Exodus 8:15, 32; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:20). A gross heart is a heart stupefied by sensual indulgence (see Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalm 58:4, 5).
(3) In the passage cited from Isaiah the prophet anticipated the judgments which came upon the Jewish nation in the Babylonish captivity (see Isaiah 6:9-12). But the prophecy also refers to the days of Messiah. This is suggested in the fact that it was uttered in connection with a vision of the glory of the Lord which was the glory of Christ (see John 12:39-41). This double or second fulfilment is recognized in the words, "in them is fulfilled" (ver. 14), ἀναπληροῦται, "again fufilled." So the parabolic teaching of Jesus was a prelude to the abandonment of the nation to the terrible consequences of their unbelief.
(4) The Gentile also has his admonition. From him that hath not, uses not, God's gifts, the gifts will be withdrawn. They will not see, therefore they shall not see. They will not be converted, therefore they shall not be converted. God says this at the end of every sinner's life. Sometimes he says it before the sinner's life is ended.
2. It was to preserve it for the true.
(1) The parable encourages the diligent. The similitude is striking and pleasing, and arrests attention. It is a mystery, or secret thing. Its meaning is not on the surface. Inquisitiveness is excited. The prayerful heart has the help of the Spirit of truth. So the parable is "a shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful" (Henry).
(2) A man has what he uses. What he uses not he only seems to have (cf. Luke 8:18). What a man uses not is wasted; but in the using it becomes a part of himself. Its resultant is in his character. Thus it is preserved. He hath it.
(3) God increases his gifts to those who use them. Men act on the same principle. Truth attained is the key to truth concealed. For in all truth is unity and harmony. In the disciples of Christ is fulfilled the promised blessing, viz. that the eyes of them that see shall not be dim (Isaiah 32:3).
(4) Those who now "see through a glass darkly" shall in the world to come see "face to face." The noblest blessings are entailed upon the true understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. - J.A.M.
hiding truth for a while, and from some, which was called for by certain results attending Christ's teachings. It should be clearly seen that the parable is designed to wrap truth up so that it may be kept safe, but be hidden from the many for the present; and uncovered and brought to light, by the spiritually minded now, and for all by and by. The previous chapters of Matthew have shown what a divided feeling was growing up, even in Galilee, concerning Christ. Some, indeed, held fast their hope in him; but the official Pharisees took a decided position against him, and they influenced very many; even our Lord's own relations had joined the distrustful party. Jesus was influenced by these conditions. He wanted to warn, correct, and reprove; but these people would only turn to evil everything he said, and become more embittered against him if he spoke out plainly. So he wrapped truth of warning and correction up in parables, which would carry his meaning without his actually speaking it out. Three reasons for the use of parables may be given.
I. One reason was related to his immediate disciples: IT ENABLED HIM TO CONTINUE HIS TEACHING OF THEM. A chief part of our Lord's work was preparing the apostles for their future work. And he did this not only by direct teachings, but also by examples of teaching. But opposition might have stopped these examples if our Lord had not changed his style and adopted the parabolic.
II. One reason was related to his ordinary congregations: IT ENABLED HIM TO ADAPT HIMSELF MORE PRECISELY TO THEIR CAPACITIES. It is quite possible that our Lord found the paradoxical style of the sermon on the mount misused, and therefore tried the pictorial style of the parable, which is so eminently suited to the child-minded. All who teach such know how they are helped by being shown what things are like. By them principles are grasped when they are illustrated in incidents, or painted in pictures.
III. One reason was related to his enemies: IT ENABLED HIM VERY SEVERELY TO REPROVE THEM WITHOUT GIVING OPEN OFFENCE. No one could take exception to our Lord's beautiful descriptions and incidents, but men with bad consciences quickly perceived that he spake the parables against them. - R.T.
soil. The point of it is not so much what the sower did, as what the soil did, and what the soil was. In each case good seed was scattered. In each case we are set thinking of the capacity of the soil, and of the manner in which it dealt with the seed. And this fact comes out forcibly to view: only when the soil was deep and soft and clean - well ploughed, well harrowed, well weeded - could even that good seed yield its thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF OUR LOUD AS A TEACHER. Compare him with the rabbinical moralists of his time. It is sometimes inconsiderately said that our Lord's moral teachings were not new. Of course they were not. How could they be? What new moral principles and duties can any teacher announce? New morals could not be true morals, for morals are the possession of humanity from man's earliest relations with God and with his fellows. You will find in our Lord's teachings some things new, some things old, and some things skilfully adapted to the needs of the day. Stalker says the teaching of Jesus consisted of numerous sayings, every one of which contained the greatest possible amount of truth in the smallest possible compass, and was expressed in language so concise and pointed as to stick in the memory like an arrow." But observe that even Christ's Divine teachings were a partial failure, when men were not "prepared to hear."
II. THE RESPONSE MEN MADE TO OUR LORD'S TEACHINGS. It surprises us that all men did not receive him. But the fact is that our Lord shared the common experience of all teachers, and proved a direct blessing to only a few. Some of the people took offence at Christ's teaching. He did not say what they had been accustomed to hear just as they had been accustomed to hear it. He did not come forth with the proper approval of the ecclesiastical officials. He often spoke too plainly. He came right home to them. He made them see sins which they had tried hard to cover over and hide. He read their hearts, and made them feel uncomfortable. Some found him too advanced a Teacher for them. Some were impulsive, and became disciples at once, but could stand no testing and strain. The moral and spiritual results of our Lord's ministry depended on the moods of the people. The common people heard him gladly. The learned people questioned and criticized, and so gained no blessing. Jesus was to men as men were to him. All depended on the soil. - R.T.
I. THE PROPHETS' DESIRES. The saints and seers of antiquity were not satisfied with the revelations made to them and the favour bestowed upon them. They looked forward to a glorious future when fuller light should appear, and when greater works of heavenly power should be accomplished. Let us consider the objects of the prophets' desire, what things they were the prophets longed to see and hear.
1. The vision of God. Job yearned to see God (Job 23:3). The older revelations of God awakened a hunger for a nearer vision. The best men of antiquity desired above all things to "see the King in his beauty."
2. The redemption of man. Some were satisfied with the course of events and the condition of the world. But two classes of men were profoundly dissatisfied, viz.
(1) prophets, who saw the truth of God and perceived the falseness of the world, its direct antagonism to the Divine will; and
(2) righteous men, who had a keen conscience, and were horrified at the sin and guilt of mankind. Both of these saw that only ruin faced man when left to himself; both cried out for a Divine redemption.
3. The advent of the kingdom of heaven. This was the grand topic of Messianic prophecy; it was the supreme object of the patient hope of devout people, such as Anna and Simeon at the time of our Lord's infancy (Luke 2:25-38). Such a hope went beyond deliverance and redemption; it pointed to a golden age in the future, excelling the best days of the past.
II. THE CHRISTIANS' PRIVILEGES. Christ congratulates his true disciples on their happy estate. Let us consider what privileges this brings.
1. The presence of Christ.
(1) He is the Revelation of God, longed for by prophets, but never seen in Old Testament times. Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us;" and Jesus replied, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:8, 9).
(2) He, too, brings redemption, for he is the Redeemer, and he comes to save the world by the sacrifice of himself.
(3) He establishes the kingdom of heaven, for he is its King. When Christ has come to us the kingdom is among us. But many saw Christ "after the flesh," in his bodily presence, and yet discerned none of these things. We do not see him walking in our streets or sitting at our table. Yet when we see him with the eyes of the heart, and perceive his Divine and redeeming presence, ours also is the vision longed for by the good and wise in ancient time.
2. The Word of life. This is what Christians hear. It is the good news of salvation in Christ. But it is also a living Word that awakens dead souls and quickens the Divine life within men. All who are within reach of the gospel may be familiar with the sound of this Word. But, alas! how many never perceive that to them has come a privilege greatly desired by prophets and righteous men of old. This Word must be heard in the heart to be appreciated. Then its gracious tones awaken responses of faith and love, because then it speaks in deep harmonies as the very music of heaven. - W.F.A.
I. CHRISTIAN PEOPLE ARE THE GROWTH OF SEED SOWN BY CHRIST IN THE WORLD. In his explanation of the parable our Lord tells us three things about this branch of his teaching.
1. Christ is the Sower. All good spiritual life springs from him.
2. The field is the world. Christ is no narrow ecclesiastic confining his interests to the Church. Nor has he the parochial mind. His gospel is for the whole world. Christians are to be "the salt of the earth."
3. The good seed represents the "sons of the kingdom," i.e. Christian people. Christ is not satisfied with teaching ideas; he aims at growing souls. His harvest is not of thoughts and doctrines, but of men and women.
II. BAD MEN ARE LIKE TARES SOWN BY SATAN.
1. Evil influences are at work is the world. There is worse than the negative failure of good seed. Weeds spring up; nettles and poison plants take their place in the garden of nature. The world as we know it has been sown with the seed of sin. Here is positive evil, alive and propagating further evil.
2. These evil influences are due to the great enemy of souls. A malignant power, the enemy of Christ and of mankind, is busy sowing evil.
3. The fruit of these evil influences is seen in the lives of bad people, it is not in false doctrine but in wicked living that the greatest mischief is manifested. The aim of Satan is to grow a crop of noxious characters.
III. THE SERVANTS OF CHRIST ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE FORCIBLE MEANS FOR THE EXTINCTION OF EVIL LIVES. This parable has often been abused by being applied to Church discipline, a subject with which it has nothing to do, seeing that "the field is the world" - not the Church. What it excludes is the violent uprooting of bad men from the world. If it is to be pressed to a literal application, it may be thought to forbid capital punishment. But as it deals with religious relations it is rather aimed at persecution; e.g. it is absolutely opposed to such action as that of the Spanish Inquisition. The violation of its precepts has vindicated our Lord's warning. The wheat has been rooted up with the tares. Too often persecution selected the very sons of the kingdom for its victims. This may be done honestly, by a horrible blunder; we cannot well distinguish between the blades of wheat and those of the plant that simulates it. At present it is premature to judge men finally, for characters are not yet developed.
IV. THERE WILL BE A FINAL JUDGMENT AND DOOM OF THE WICKED.
1. This will happen at the end of all, when characters have fully ripened, when the harvest is come. Even now the harvest is anticipated by the reaper Death, and after death there is the great judgment. The liberty of the present is no guarantee against the great doom of the future. Evil cannot flourish forever.
2. This will be in the hands of God. It is not for man to use violent measures against his fellow man; but God and his angels will search into all characters, and the issue must be fearful for those who have permitted themselves to become as the rank growth of Satan. - W.F.A.
some of the hearers. But this parable seems to have specially asked, on the part of the disciples, for explanation. The former spoke broadest truth of broadest application for all the world, whether "received" or "not received." But very possibly even the invidious element contained in this may have gained for it a quicker ear and a more curious attention on the part of the disciples. Notice -
I. HOW THIS PARABLE DATES THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AS AN ORIGINAL PLANTATION IN THE WORLD. IT DOES THIS ALIKE IN FORM AND IN THE NECESSARY IMPLICATION OF ITS MATTER. In however true a sense Jesus Christ was now himself planting afresh the kingdom of heaven on earth, its foundation was from the beginning. Long time, with most varying rate of growth, had it been growing. In how true, and even double sense true, was it that while men slept the enemy came! And how naively true, only in one sense, that when he had sowed his tares, he "went his way"! Note also, as some instance of the perpetually recurring evidential coincidences of Scripture, the ministerial function of the "Son of man" is likewise dated to the beginning, creation itself.
II. HOW FRANK AND CALM THE ADMISSION OF THE DIVINE HOUSEHOLDER OF THE DISASTROUS DAMAGE DONE IN HIS FIELD OF THE WORLD!
III. HOW SILENT-LEFT AND UNTOUCHED TO THE SERVANTS, THE QUESTION (THEORETIC ONLY, FOR THEM AS IT WOULD APPEAR TO BE DEEMED) HOW THIS WAS; AND WHY NO IMMEDIATE STRENUOUS STEPS FOR THE DISCOVERY AND CONDIGN PUNISHMENT OF THE ENEMY WERE TAKEN, OR ORDERED, OR SUGGESTED - THE COUNSELS OF HEAVEN, AND ITS HIGHEST OR DEEPEST DECREES BEING HEREIN LEFT, UNQUESTIONED, UNESPIED, IN THEIR PROPER PROFOUND INSCRUTABLE!
IV. HOW WITH PERFECT PATIENCE, WITH LARGE-EYED OBSERVATION, WITH UNPROVOKED FORBEARANCE, AND ENDURING LONG SUFFERING, THE SCENE IS SURVEYED, THE DIRECTIONS THAT ALONE ARE NEEDFUL FOR SERVANTS ARE SENT FORTH, AND TIME ALLOWED TO FLOW ON.
V. HOW TREMENDOUS BUT MOST GRACIOUS THE WITNESS BORNE TO THE LIMITED KNOWLEDGE, LIMITED DISCRIMINATION, AND EVEN VERY LIMITED SKILL OF HANDIWORK, ABLE TO BE CLAIMED BY THE SERVANTS NOW IN QUESTION.
VI. HOW BOLD, TRENCHANT, UNDISMAYED, THE DISTINCT AFFIRMATION, OF THE GREAT PROPHET PRESENT, AS REGARDS THE END, ITS SOLEMN APPORTIONMENTS, AND ITS ENTIRE DETAILED SCENERY. - B.
to the extent of injuring a man. If a man, because he is ungodly, defrauds his neighbour, murders, or robs, he is of course lawfully punished, but not on the score of his ungodliness, but of his breaking human law; not because he has been an unprofitable creature of God's and an offence in the sight of God, but because he is an injurious member of a civil community. No punishment is to be inflicted by us purely on the ground of a man's spiritual condition, of his not bearing fruit in the kingdom of heaven. It is most detrimental to the cause of Christianity when a Christian in his conduct towards an ungodly person seems to be always saying, "I wish you were out of the world; and for my part, and as far as I can, you shall be deprived of all its advantages." From the earliest times, however, it has been the all but universal opinion that this parable had reference to ecclesiastical discipline. And if not meant in its first intention to be applied thus, it is valid for this purpose as well. Within the Church it is often very difficult to know what is wheat and what is not. An opinion which is condemned as scandalous or full of danger may turn out to be true and wholesome; if it be at once pronounced tares and thrown over the hedge, the good fruit it might have borne is thrown away with it. And even where it is clear that evil has sprung up in the Church, it is a further question whether it should be summarily removed. If you leave false doctrine alone, may you not get rid of it sooner than if you fix public attention upon it? No man who had a regard for his field would carry a seeding thistle through every part of it and shake it in every corner. Our Lord gives two reasons for this method of delay.
1. If we endeavour to anticipate the end, we shall injure the children of the kingdom. You are not to root up the tares, because you will inevitably root up good corn along with them. You cannot injure one man and one only, and of those who are attached to him can you be sure there are none who are of the kingdom?
2. But the kingdom of heaven has a Judge and an executive of its own, which will be apparent in the end. And when we reflect that what has raised our indignation has been observed by God, and will assuredly be dealt with by him, this not only stifles our indignation, but impels us to seek to save the sinner from the punishment he is earning. The bearing of this parable, then, on ourselves cannot be mistaken. Wheat and darnel, it says, are almost identical in appearance, but the root of the principle of the one is different from the other; the one is good food, the other is poison and they will eventually be treated accordingly. From this similarity it arises:
(1) That the darnel is apt to think itself as good as the wheat. But the question is not whether you are not at present to all appearance as useful and pleasant a member of society as they, but whether there is not that in them which will grow to good and that in you which will grow to evil. What is it that is producing your actual life and character? What is the motive power? Is it mere desire to get on, or respect for your own good name? Or is your character being more and more formed by the belief that God calls you to live for him and for eternity? Are you rooted in Christ? Do you grow out of him?
(2) The wheat is apt to think itself no better than darnel. You are troubled because others seem to be as regular, as zealous, as successful, in duty as you; they have even the advantage of you in some respects. Some natural infirmity of temper has fixed its stamp on you, or you are choked by uncongenial surroundings. But look to the end here predicted, "when all that offends shall be taken out of the way," and "the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Be sure only that there is that in you which will shine forth if the hindrances and blinds be taken out of the way. - D.
I. THAT THIS LIFE IS A SCENE OF TRIAL.
1. The field is the world.
(1) So we have it in the interpretation (ver. 38). It is a wide field, whether viewed physically or morally. Still it is the Lord's domain. One day it will be universally fruitful to his glory (see Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
(2) Here we are now on our trial. This thought makes life solemn. The more so since there is no second probation.
(3) The issues are tremendous. In quality. In duration.
(4) How precious are the opportunities of the present!
2. The soil will nourish any seed.
(1) It will nourish the good. This, as interpreted in the parable of the sower, is the "Word of the kingdom" (ver. 19). In the interpretation here it is those in whom that Word is incorporated' 'the sons of the kingdom" (ver. 38). Note: The sons of the kingdom are distinguished by their relation to the truth.
(2) It will nourish the evil. The truth of God is opposed by the perversions of Satan. Those ruled by error are the "sons of the evil one." The wicked do not consider their spiritual lineage (see John 8:44; Ephesians 2:2).
(3) Note: Here are only two classes. There are orders of good, and there are orders of evil. But if the seed be not good, then it is evil. To which of these classes do you belong?
3. There are two seed sowers.
(1) The Son of man, as in the parable of the sower, is one. The seed he sows is good. He is the incarnation of Infinite good. Christ sowed this good seed in person when he preached. He still sows it by his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).
(2) The enemy, not mentioned in this capacity in the parable of the sower, is the other. The devil is the enemy of Christ (ver. 39; see also Genesis 3:15). So is he the enemy of the sons of Jesus. The enemy is the anti-Messiah, possessed of the devil, as was Judas Iscariot (cf. Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
(3) Note the differences in the sowing. The Son of man sows openly in the day. The evil one works in the darkness of night. "While men slept" (ver. 25). Satan takes every advantage of our drowsiness, indolence, lukewarmness. The approaches of evil are stealthy.
(4) Note what follows. The evil one "went his way." He takes care not to be seen in his work. He can trust his weeds to grow. "When the blade was up." Beware of the seeds of evil. They may be small, but they grow.
II. THAT THIS SCENE OF TRIAL PRESENTS DIFFICULT PROBLEMS.
1. There is the origin of moral evil.
(1) It puzzled the servants to see the darnel, or the bastard wheat, spring up among the good wheat (ver. 27). We may puzzle ourselves with many things.
(2) Christ disclaims this authorship. He owns to sowing the good seed. He is infinitely good. Evil he can neither be nor do.
(3) He fixes this authorship upon Satan. He is the enemy alike of God and man. Further than this in the solution of the question of the origin of evil we cannot go.
(4) Note: The personality of the devil is here asserted. The author of moral evil must be a moral, and therefore an intelligent, agent.
2. There is the forbearance of God towards evil.
(1) This also puzzled the servants. "Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?" "Wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Luke 9:54-56). Zeal is commendable only when it is discreet.
(2) God tolerates the evil for the sake of the good.
(a) Were he to root all the wicked out of the earth, the population would be so reduced that the wild beasts could not be kept under.
(b) The graces of the good are exercised by the toleration of the wicked.
(c) So the grace of God is exemplified in supporting the good amongst the evil.
(3) The wicked are tolerated to render it possible for the grace of God to convert them.
3. There is the difference between discipline and persecution.
(2) The darnel so resembles the wheat that it may be mistaken for it. So may the unbeliever be mistaken for the believer, the hypocrite for the true man. So, on the contrary, some saints are so clumsy and awkward that they may be mistaken for deceivers. Where there is a doubt let the subject have the benefit. The wheat rather than the darnel has generally suffered from persecution.
(3) But the toleration of darnel, which resembles wheat, is no reason for the toleration of thorns, which resemble it not (cf. ver. 22; 1 Corinthians 5:13). The teaching of our parable is not directed against discipline, but against persecution.
(4) Note: Our Lord gives us no authority to expect a perfect Church in this age. The objection against joining a Church because it is imperfect is unreasonable.
III. THAT THE GREAT JUDGMENT WILL VINDICATE THE WAYS OF GOD.
1. Then will he separate the evil from the good.
(1) Angels will be employed in this service. They are superior to the prejudices of mortals. They act also in the presence and under the direction of the omniscient Son of man.
(2) There are no masks in heaven. Where no evil is there is nothing to conceal. Society is at its best when confidence has no restraint.
(3) Masks are torn off in hell. Holy angels will unmask the wicked. What a spectacle will be then displayed! Society is at its worst when mistrust has no restraint.
2. Then will he punish the wicked.
(1) The tares are bound in bundles. Is this a classification according to character? Are atheists to be bundled together? Blasphemers? Epicures? Persecutors? Hypocrites?
(2) Is the bundling promiscuous? Will the scientist be bound in the same bundle with the sot?
(3) "Bind them in bundles to burn them." The Son of man "shall cast them into the furnace of fire" (ver. 42). What a prison! What an imprisonment!
(4) Despair has its woeful expression. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (ver. 42).
3. Then will he reward the good.
(1) They will enjoy security. "Gather the wheat into my barn" (ver. 30; Psalm 50:5). Security from wind and weather. Beyond the mutations of probation.
(2) They will enjoy distinction. "In the kingdom of their Father." "Now we are the sons of God." Then will the grandeur of this sonship appear (cf. John 20:17; 1 John 3:2). The palace. The throne (Revelation 3:21).
(3) They will be invested with glory. "Shall shine forth as the sun" (cf. Judges 5:31; Daniel 12:3). In the glory of purity like the "Sun of Righteousness." In glorified bodies like that of Jesus. They shall not "burn" like the wicked, but "shine."
(4) Who hath ears, let him hear how tenderly God cares for the good. - J.A.M.
good seeding, and for the sake of the seed he wants he is anxious to secure good flowers. His harvest is largely, and ideally it is altogether, a gathering of seed for next year's sowing. We are familiar with the idea that the present life is our sowing time, and the next life our harvest time. But this view is less familiar. The present life is the growing and the preparing of the seeds which are to be sown in the fields of the next life. Every plant has this for its object, to seed the fields next year.
I. OUR EARTH LIFE IS THE HARVEST FIELD IN WHICH WE BOTH SOW AND REAP. The field is prepared for us. We cannot choose or make our own particular place and work. Our age, family, nation, circumstances, abilities, and disabilities are all arranged for us. What we have to do is to sow our own particular field, and exactly what we sow we shall reap, a fulness of the same thing. Youth is the time of sowing; early manhood is the time of growing. The full maturity of life is our reaping time. The man in middle life has attained the character which is the seed-result of the spring sowing and the summer growing. He will not be very different as long as he lives.
II. THE HARVEST OF THIS LIFE PROVIDES THE SEED CORN FOR THE NEXT LIFE. Remember, every plant is working for next year. The flower or the fruit of this year is not its end; the seed is its end. And cultured, finished, high-toned, spiritual character is the seed which we are to have ready for the next harvest field. The eternal ages may prove to be successions of harvest fields, in which, like the plants, we shall be ever sowing and maturing for the next age's seeding; ever trying to secure better, worthier, character seeds.
III. THERE IS MUCH TO BE DONE WITH THE SEED CORN, WHEN IT IS MATURE, BEFORE IT IS ALTOGETHER FIT FOR THE NEXT YEAR'S SOWING. It seems as if a piece of life were left out, and we ended it with manhood. But there is a space between full manhood and decay. That piece of life should be the weathering, winnowing, cleansing of the seed corn character, ready for the eternal fields. Weathering, or exposing to the sun and wind of prosperity. Winnowing, or getting rid of the useless by adversity. Cleansing, or getting free from the mischievous by culture. Fully ripe and well prepared, God bears us off to seed his eternal fields. - R.T.
1. General hints in relation to the kingdom, common to many parables.
2. Special points of description necessary to the completion of the picture, but not to be unduly pressed to yield a meaning.
3. A particular aspect of truth, for the sake of which the parable is specially given.
I. THE SALIENT POINTS OF THIS PARABLE.
1. Our inability to form perfect judgment of individuals now.
2. The duty of accepting profession now, and leaving perfect judgment for God's future.
3. The distinction between good and evil is vital; there is really no possible confusion between them.
4. The distinction between good and bad persons will one day be clearly seen.
5. The temptation to use outward physical force to accomplish the objects of the Church must be steadfastly resisted.
II. THE ONE POINT CALLING FOR PARTICULAR ATTENTION. It is the fact of life that evil and good do now grow together. Illustrate weeds and flowers; poison and food; fierce and gentle animals; good and bad men in every association. This is true of Christian worship, and even of the Church. Illustrate Epistle to Corinthians, which deals with a wicked man in the Church. Our Lord assumes the fact when he says, "By their fruits ye shall know them." It would be an incomprehensible fact if this were our only life. We can a little understand it, if we see God's purpose to morally test every man. Everything in life is arranged for testing purposes. Disposition is tried at home. Character is tried in business. Principles are tried in society. Evil has everywhere the chance of mastering good if it can. Suppose evil people were now put all by themselves; there would be no hope of their deliverance from evil. Suppose the good people were put all by themselves; they would get conceited past bearing. As it is
(1) evil finds itself revealed as evil;
(2) evil gains space for repentance;
(3) evil has opportunity and incentive to repentance.
Evil put in close association with goodness
(1) tests goodness itself; makes it no easy thing to be good;
(2) finds spheres for goodness to work in; and so, by working, goodness is nourished.
Heaven is not to be thought of as the place for becoming good, but for being good. This life is the time for the training of man's character. We need have no fear concerning the issues of Divine training. As certainly as no tares will be spared from the burning, so certainly no true wheat will ever be lost. - R.T.
I. THE VISIBLE GROWTH OF THE KINGDOM ITSELF.
1. It appears in a small beginning. Christ gathered about him a little group of fishermen; there was the kingdom, but as yet a minute seed. How many of the best movements spring from small beginnings - the river from the brook, the man from the child, the city from the hamlet, the empire from the city! History forbids us to despise the day of small things. It is better to begin obscurely and grow, than to commence with a flourish of trumpets, raising expectations which we may not be able to fulfil.
2. It contains a centre of life. The pebble will not grow. Multitudes of small ventures are destined to remain small or to fade away altogether. It is only the vital seed that grows. There is a life-principle in Christianity. Christ himself is in it.
3. It has a great development. The mustard seed becomes a tree. The little group of disciples becomes a world wide Church. Christ has large aims, and he accomplishes them. He has not yet seen the full growth of the seed he sowed. Christianity is still spreading - spreading in heathen lands as in no previous age; it has in it vitality enough to fill the whole world.
4. Its growth is beneficial to the world. The kingdom of heaven is not a deadly Upas tree; it does not destroy all other Jives in fostering its own life. The mustard tree furnishes night shelter for the birds; the kingdom of heaven is a great refuge for helpless, benighted souls.
II. THE INVISIBLE INFLUENCE OF THE KINGDOM. It works like leaven in a mass of meal.
1. It spreads through the world. The gospel has a marvellous penetrating influence. Early Christianity extended itself without any organized method of propagation, reaching all classes of society and touching remotest regions. There is a happy infection in Christian truth. A saintly example is healthily contagious.
2. It influences the world. The whole mass of meal is leavened. Christ gives us a leaven of society, not merely a new life to be in society and to spread itself, growing and multiplying, but a transforming and uplifting influence. Left to itself the world is dead. The gospel comes as a ferment, breaking up the old lethargy and rousing fresh activity. It affects every part of life, and whatever it affects it assimilates to itself. We are not to think of the kingdom of heaven standing aloof from the world, which is to be let lie in its own deadness. It is sent into the world that it may benefit the world. Plunged into the midst of society, it works for the benefit of society. Commerce, science, literature, art, politics, social order, and domestic life are all sought out by the Christian spirit, and as they come under its influence they are purified and quickened. Seeing that the influences of the gospel are destined to be so widespread and manifold, it becomes us not to cramp them by any narrowness of our own, but rather to further them with courageous hopefulness. - W.F.A.
most relevant suggestion is comprised in this very brief parable, not nevertheless of the essence of its direct meaning or direct object. E.g. is it not almost a parable within a parable to be able to observe on the appropriateness of the use of the illustration of the small mustard seed, and the seed instanced being such kind of seed as the mustard seed, to characterize Jesus Christ himself (the Sower of the seed of the kingdom) as well as that kingdom which he sowed? Another very relevant suggestion, as just intimated, springs out of the character of the mustard seed, its own intrinsic quality for fragrance, pungency, power to bring out flavour, either adding to that with which it is used, or counteracting it, or so combining with it as to make a new tertium quid. And so once more a most relevant suggestion springs out of the descriptive touch respecting the birds that fly to its shadow by day and its hospitable lodging by night. The subject, however, of this parable is of course still illustration of the kingdom of heaven, in some one certain respect or more. As the first parable was an illustration of it, ever applicable and on the broadest foundation; and the second, one still ever applicable, but intensely important as it might be, and that especially in its far reachingness, yet somewhat more limited in its scope; so we shall be sure to find the specialty of this third parable stamped unmistakably upon it. Notice that it is distinctly foretold that -
I. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS TO HAVE ITS OWN DEVELOPMENT; IT IS TO GROW OF ITSELF AND FROM ITSELF. Wherever it is, whatever it works upon, whatever it may attract to itself, it shall receive into itself; leave some of it, take some of it, incorporate this, have one body and one spirit, and own to no rival.
II. THAT DEVELOPMENT WILL IN NO SENSE BE SIMPLY COMMENSURABLE WITH ITS BEGINNING, EVEN WHEN EVERY ALLOWANCE SHALL BE MADE FOR THE ORDINARY MEASURE OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BEGINNING AND THAT TO WHICH IT MAY GROW. It will contradict and gloriously disappoint untaught expectation. No mere proverbial oak from acorn will suffice to set forth the development this growth will attain. The only analogy that wilt suit will be the example of something that is indeed perfectly natural, but looks something other than natural. Wide nature, the work of God, will indeed find the analogue, however humble the scale of it. This is a very small seed, and its proper growth a herb; but the herb refuses to answer very strictly to its own sort, and waxes into a tree; and shows the features and properties of the tree, "shooting out great branches." So is the kingdom of heaven. And whether the seed be called that which was once found in the manger, or that which was once found in the tomb, it seemed small indeed - neither at the former time nor at the latter was it counted for anything but a thing to be disregarded and despised - yet to what was it to grow!
III. THAT GROWTH FROM SMALLEST SEED, THAT KINGDOM FOUNDED FROM HOST UNPROMISING MATERIAL, SHALL PROVE ITSELF NOT A GROWTH OF MERE GRANDEUR TO BEHOLD, NOT A MONUMENT OF HUMAN PRIDE OF POWER AND CONQUEST; BUT A RESORT OF HEAVENLY SHADE, HEAVENLY SAFETY, HEAVENLY REST - A HEAVENLY HOME FOR ALL THAT WILL, SEEK IT, FOR ALL THAT WILL WING THEIR FLIGHT, WEARY OR GLAD, TO IT. This tree is in a new sense the tree of life, offered to all, and as free to all as air, and. spreading branches, and whispering winds, the breath of morning, or the sweet sighings of evening, with their invitations, could make it, for all birds and "fowl of every wing" that fly under heaven. - B.
Numbers 23:18). Under the parable of two eagles and a vine Ezekiel shows forth the judgments of God upon Jerusalem for revolting from Babylon to Egypt (Ezekiel 18.; see also Ezekiel 24:3; Micah 2:4-6; Habakkuk 2:6). So are the parables of Christ prophetic. Observe -
I. THAT JESUS TAUGHT IN PARABLES IN PURSUANCE OF PROPHECY.
1. The end of that teaching was predicted.
(1) The end was to hide the saving truth from those who proved themselves unworthy of it. Our Lord did not assume the parable until his plainer teaching, with its miraculous demonstrations, had been wickedly rejected.
(2) This judgment upon the proud, obstinate, and sensual people was foretold (cf. Isaiah 6:9-12; see homily on vers. 10-17).
(3) The parable, at once, so wisely enshrined the saving truth as richly to reward the diligence of the prayerful. To these the parables of Christ are the utterance of "things hidden from the foundation of the world" (cf. Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26).
2. So was the means to the end.
(1) Asaph, to whom the authorship of the psalm cited by Matthew in the text is ascribed, was a "seer," or prophet (see 2 Chronicles 29:30). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he predicted that Messiah should speak to the people in parables. For the psalm itself contains no parable.
(2) In uttering these "dark sayings," Messiah was to "establish a testimony in Jacob," and to appoint "a law in Israel" (Psalm 78:5). These are distinct from the testimony and Law from Sinai, which were given long before the days of Asaph or David. What, then, can they be but the law destined to emanate from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem? (cf. Isaiah 2:3).
(3) The psalmist, moreover, speaks of these as to be "given to the generation to come;" literally, "the latter generation," or the generation of the latter days.
(4) In this mysterious teaching, therefore, Jesus exhibited another mark of his Messiahship. The unbelieving Jews seek in vain for any mark of Messiahship which is not verified in him.
II. THAT THE PARABLES BEFORE US MAY BE VIEWED AS PROPHECIES.
1. They describe the gospel in its feeble beginning.
(1) How apparently insignificant is the grain of mustard seed! So apparently insignificant was Jesus in his feeble infancy; in the meanness of his circumstances; in the social grade of his few followers. Fishermen of Galilee! "Hath any of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees?"
(2) How apparently insignificant is the lump of leaven as compared with the lump of meal! How are these words of Jesus uttered in the air of Galilee so to multiply as to reverberate in every human ear the world over? How is this company of fishermen to preach the gospel to every creature?
2. They describe the gospel in its secret power.
(1) The grain of mustard seed is small; but it is a seed. It has in it an unlimited power of growth and multiplication. So Jesus has in himself illimitable resources. See his power flashing from him in miracles. Physical. Moral.
(2) The "little leaven," also, possesses wonderful potency. The word of Christ differs from every other word in that it carries in it the energy of omnipotence. During the first year of the ministry of Jesus we read of "seventy disciples." Note: They were not seventy units, but seventy preachers. In three years "the number of the names was one hundred and twenty." After the outpouring of the Spirit the disciples multiplied by thousands (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4).
(3) The gospel has not only won its converts by millions, but it has demolished the idolatrous systems of the classic nations. It is now undermining the colossal systems of the East. It is in the van of all true science and civilization.
3. They describe the gospel in its ultimate triumph.
(1) These parables do not predict that the visible Church by the gospel is to convert the whole world before Christ comes again. For this would oppose his own teaching, as when he advises us that at his coming the moral state of the world will sadly resemble that of the antediluvians in the days of Noah (see Luke 17:24-30). Paul also declares that "in the last days perilous times shall come;" that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:1, 13).
(2) The interval of the seed lying in the soil is that portion of the parable of the mustard seed to which may be compared the period through which we are passing, extending from the first to the second advent of Christ. So with the leaven. Leaven works secretly in the meal for a long time before its power is visible in a universal commotion. As yet the kingdom of God is without observation. It comes secretly in the heart without ostentation or display.
(3) The parables carry us beyond the time of the coming of Christ. They carry us forward to the millennium, in which season the grain of mustard seed will have become a great tree, in which the birds of the air - all nations and peoples - will find rest and shelter (cf. Psalm 80:9, 11; Isaiah 60:1, 2; Amos 9:15). Then will the work of the leaven be visible in the whole lump. "We cannot consider these words, the whole, less than a prophecy that the leaven shall yet pervade all nations and purify all life" (Trench). Note: The gospel, like leaven, works silently and insensibly in the heart (see Psalm 119:11). The Word, like fermenting leaven, is quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It works "until the whole is leavened," or brought into similitude to itself. Leaven does not work in corn unground. So neither does the gospel work on the unbroken heart. The similes in these parables are encouraging to those who work for Christ and souls. The same gospel which now converts the individual believer will convert the race in the coming age. - J.A.M.
khardal, and known to botanists as the Salvadora persica. From a small seed it grows into a considerable tree, and its fruit has a pleasant aromatic taste; birds like it much, and frequent the branches. It is said that it grew abundantly on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, and so came under Christ's direct notice. But Dr. Thomson thinks the khardal was very rare in Palestine, and that our Lord referred to the common wild mustard, Sinapis nigra, which grows to a considerable height - as tall, indeed, as a horse and his rider. To call the mustard the least of seeds was a proverbial expression of the time. It was the least that the husbandman would sow, and is fittingly taken as a type of little things that have great possibilities in them.
I. CHRIST'S KINGDOM ADVANCES BY GROWTH. That is, by unfoldings out of rather than by additions to. It is as a tree rather than as a house. Compare the mechanical extension of a religion, as in the case of Mohammedanism; and the miraculous extension of a religion, which would tend to destroy its moral character. If Christ's kingdom spreads by growth, we should not expect forced leaps, though we may look for periods of fuller flowing life, such as is the spring time of nature. Christ's kingdom comes by the "out-populating of the Christian stock," and by the out-reaching of the Christian example and influence.
II. THE GROWTH OFTEN STARTS FROM VERY MINUTE BEGINNINGS. Illustrate:
1. By the mustard seed, the acorn, or the cedar cone.
2. By the Christian Church in Europe, which began with the woman Lydia at Philippi.
3. By the unfoldings of missionary enterprise.
4. By the Sunday schools, which started in an effort to save a few children from the street.
5. By instances of persona! Christian labour. A youth's prayer unfolded into the Young Men's Christian Association. Never "despise the day of small things," or miss the opportunity of doing a little.
III. THE GROWTH MAY AT LAST REACH GLORIOUS RESULTS. A little seed, scarcely covering a spot, may grow to spread its branches in the sky. Illustrate from the Christian Church of today, which is represented in well nigh every land. Do you say, "The results are not yet"? That is only the result of your mode of reckoning. If the kingdom be a life, if it be righteousness and mercy, then the kingdom is nearer its full triumph than we have imagined. - R.T.
was kept in view by the Author of it. So much may be made, even by warrant of Scripture, in respect of the ill associations of leaven, that if this be dwelt upon without a steady memory of the quality and the one use of leaven, whether in good association or in bad, the student vision will be a double one, and his judgment warped and distorted. So, though in risk far inferior, and of far less moment, the incidents of this very brief parable, e.g. of the mention of the "woman" who took the leaven, and of the "three measures" of meal in which she is represented as hiding it, may easily be turned, for they have been so turned, to what tends to mar, instead of to complete our distinct apprehension and appropriation of the matter of the parable. These may, indeed, heighten effect, and, if possible, may beautify effect. They may be, perhaps, not illegitimately used to these very ends. They may so chime in with history, with fact, with reverent associations of faith, as not to be unjustified, for the very helpfulness and devoutness of them. But they must be subordinated to their right place and sphere with a stern resolution. Of this simplest parable illustration of the kingdom of heaven on earth many difficulties have been made, and not a little distortion and perversion even; but in its brief simplicity it says -
I. THAT A CERTAIN PRESENCE OF SELF-ACTING INTRINSIC QUALITY AND TRANSMUTING FORCE IS INTRODUCED INTO WHAT MAY BE CALLED THE SOCIETY OF THIS WORLD, OR, MORE FORMALLY, THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD.
II. THAT THIS IS BROUGHT DISTINCTLY FROM WITHOUT, IN NO SENSE BEING ONE WITH THAT INTO WHICH IT IS INTRODUCED.
III. THAT SO SOON AS INTRODUCED, HOWEVER SILENTLY, HOWEVER SUDDENLY, IT BEGINS TO INCORPORATE ITSELF, AND TO BE ASSIMILATED, WORKING. UNCEASINGLY AND IN EVERY DIRECTION UPON THE MASS OF MATERIAL IN WHICH IT IS HIDDEN, AND IN WHICH IT SEEMS SMOTHERED.
IV. THAT ITS OPERATION DOES NOT CEASE UNTIL IT HAS TRANSMUTED THAT WHOLE MASS. All this was foretold; and all this was divinely called parable. But history has told it, and it has ceased by any possibility to be able to be called mere parable. In every respect it has been witnessed to, illustrated by most evident facts, and proved with not a shadow of doubt or uncertainty. The amazing mission of Christ to this world, his sojourn in it, his replacement by the Holy Spirit, the suddenness of this new and most wonderful and most gracious "departure," the silence and obscurity of the subduing and transforming work, and its unceasingness to the present hour, have all been fact, and are all forming an overwhelming presage of the further development and growth of their conquering power and grace. It means that the process, so wonderful, so potent, so beneficent, shall know no pause till the whole lump is leavened. - B.
(1) first, the kind of change which Christianity works in the world;
(2) second, the method by which this change is wrought.
I. THE CHANGE OUR LORD MEANT TO EFFECT IN THE WORLD was to be a change not so much of outward forms as of the spirit and character of all things. The propagation of his influence is set forth and illustrated, not by a woman taking a mass of dough and making it into new shapes, but by a woman putting that into the dough which alters the character of the whole mass. There are two ways in which you may revolutionize a country or society. You may pull down the old forms of government, or you may fill them with men of a different spirit, revise the constitution, or, leaving it untouched, fill official positions with the right men. A machine refuses to work, and people tell you the construction is wrong; but the skilled mechanic pushes aside the ignorant crowd, and puts all to rights with a few drops of oil. Few distinctions are of wider application. What is pointed at is rather the regenerative than the creative power of Christ's Spirit; not so much the new facts and habits to which Christian feeling gives birth, as the new feelings and views it has about existing customs, institutions, relationships, occupations. His Spirit, he says, does not require new channels; a man does not require new arteries, but to have them filled with health-giving blood. In establishing the kingdom of heaven our Lord did not intend to erect a vast organization over against the world, but he meant to introduce into the world itself a leaven which should subdue all things to his own Spirit. It was to be without observation, hidden as leaven among meal.
II. THE METHOD BY WHICH THE KINGDOM IS TO GROW. Kingdoms have been extended in various ways, but chiefly by force, by the strong band. And the idea that men can be compelled to accept the truth seems never to be wholly eradicated from the human mind. But our Lord teaches that the extension of his Spirit throughout the world is to be by the secret unnoticed influence of man upon man. No doubt there is a direct agency of God in each case, but God works through natural means, and the natural means here pointed to is personal influence. Than this there is no mightier power. Take even the influence of those who least intend to influence you, and seem least capable of it. Think of the influence in many ways of the little child who cannot stand alone; or of those who seem wholly pushed aside from the busy world by ill health or misfortune. How we have been brought to a chastened, sober habit by their suffering; and to the recognition of what is essential and what accidental, what good and what evil in the world! For the operation of this influence there must be:
1. A mixing; that is to say, there must be contact of the closest kind between the regenerate and the unregenerate. The leaven is manifestly useless while it lies by itself. If our Lord had secluded himself in the household of Bethany, and never eaten with publicans and sinners, little of his Spirit could have passed into other men. The closeness of the intimacy, the depth of the love, is the measure of the effect produced. And in a country like ours, where what belonged yesterday to one person is today possessed by a thousand, good or evil propagates itself with the speed and certainty of contagion, the more effectually because insensibly. There is no banishment for the moral leper; no man can be evil for himself alone. This mixing is provided for in various ways - by nature, which sets us in families; by society, which compels contact of various kinds with others. Beyond these are the casual meetings we are unawares thrown into, and the voluntary friendships and associations we form. Of the first we may say, that if we cannot always choose our company we can always choose how we shall conduct ourselves in it; we can make our meeting a means of spreading the Spirit of Christ. The additions to his kingdom must be chiefly from among those who do not at present respond to Christian sentiments. For the regulation of connections which we form of our own choice the parable suffices. Can they be leavened, and by us? It is folly to argue that because some one else can go into certain company, or engage in certain pursuits and not be the worse for it, that therefore you can do so. But there is a culpable refusal to mix as well as a too great eagerness to do so. Two very opposite feelings lead to this.
(1) One is the Pharisaic contempt for, or hopelessness about, other people. A converted person often seems to forget the hole of the rock whence he was digged - what he was yesterday, and what the unbeliever on whom he scowls may be tomorrow. Or
(2) there is the opposite feeling, that our influence can only do harm. But this feeling should prompt us not to separate ourselves from the world, but to renew our connection with the leaven. If we fear to touch another lest we communicate disease, let us first touch him out of whom flows healing for all diseases.
2. But, the mixing being accomplished, how does the process succeed? The parable says - Be leaven, and you will leaven. Be a Christian, and you must make Christians or help to make them. No doubt direct address forms one great part of the means of leavening those around you, but the figure here points rather to the all-pervading and subtle extension of Christian principles than to their declared and aggressive advocacy. What is the influence of your example? If you are not leavening others, it is because you are yourself unleavened. There is no such thing as leaven that does not work. You cannot confine the perfume to the flower, or restrict the light of the sun to its own globe. It is a glorious consummation here spoken of - till "the whole is leavened. In Christ's kingdom is to be gathered all that has ever served or gladdened humanity. His Spirit is to take possession of all national characteristics and all individual gifts. And all is to be achieved through personal influence. Can you know the earnestness of Christ in this behalf, and lift no finger to help him? Is there nothing you ought to do in leavening some little bit of the great mass? - D.
I. HOW SILENT ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF THE NEW LIFE IN SOULS! The devotion of the disciples to Christ was a power they did not estimate. It was a small beginning, but it grew in power to make them martyrs. The first faith and love of Christ's disciples was so weak that an evening breeze could have blown it away; by and by it stood the raging wintry storms of persecution. It was life, and, spreading, it gained power. The beginning of the new life in us is the time when mind and heart waken to personal interest in Christ. But this beginning is often hidden from others, and even from the man himself. If we recognized this fact
(1) we should make more of God's part, and less of our own, in the work of redemption;
(2) we should be more quick to discern signs of God's working;
(3) we should much oftener be encouraged by noticing the results of our Christian labour.
II. HOW CONSTANT ARE THE ACTIVITIES OF THE NEW LIFE IN SOULS! Like the leaven, that is always going on leavening. Think of it as the spirit of faith, of trust in God, put into our carnal, corrupt, self-seeking nature, even as leaven is put in meal; and as Christianity is put into an evil world. The spirit of trust is active, like the leaven. Christian life and relations provide the spheres in which the active principle of faith is spreading.
III. HOW GLORIOUS IS THE ISSUE TOWARD WHICH THE NEW LIFE IN SOULS IS WORKING!
1. It will "leaven the whole lump." True of humanity; but now we see that it is especially true of our humanity, ourselves. It is working to win
(1) the body, with all its passions and relations;
(2) the mind, with all its endowments and interests;
(3) the soul, with all its capacities and possibilities. When the whole lump is leavened, then holiness, and therefore heaven, is gained. - R.T.
manner of its operation, but emphasizing the value of itself, and the sense of its value as entertained and proved by some; and it is no longer a parable revealing the wide hold it shall establish over the mass of mankind, but the mighty hold it shall gain upon the individuals of whom the mass is composed. The parable exhibits these facts respecting the kingdom, and that which is of the very essence of it - the treasure of the gospel, the truth of Christ.
I. HOW SOVEREIGN AND FREE IT IS, IN THE NATURE OF ITS FIRST APPROACH TO ANY ONE! The present parable is not spoken of one who seeks already, but of one who, in the midst of his own duty, life's labour and toil, lights on the treasure. Why has he lighted upon it? In this case it will not do to say chance! Nor is it often given to us to say why. It is for the blest man himself, however, to count it an example of free, unmerited, sovereign goodness and mercy.
II. HOW IT IN A MOMENT EXCITES THE ATTENTION, AND LAYS HOLD OF THE DESIRE OF HIM WHO GETS BUT ONE REAL GLIMPSE OF IT! The effect in such cases is immediate; the man takes in at once the value of the opportunity that has opened before him.
III. HOW GREAT THE JOY OF THAT SUDDEN SURPRISE!
IV. HOW CAREFUL, AT THE SAME TIME, THAT JOY SHOWS ITSELF!
V. HOW CORRECT THE ESTIMATE PUT UPON THE VALUE! IT IS TREASURE, AND IT IS SUCH TREASURE, THAT HE WILL FORSAKE AND WILL SELL ALL ELSE FOR THAT. - B.
i.e., are born with a noble instinct which prompts them to believe that there is infinite joy and satisfaction to be found, and that it shall be theirs; others, again, never look beyond their present attainment, have no speculation in them, no broad plan of life nor much idea that any purpose is to be served by it. This difference, when exhibited in connection with religion, becomes very marked.
I. The point of the first parable, and its distinction from the other, seems to lie in this - that while the man was giving a deeper furrow to his field, intent only on his team, his ploughshare suddenly grated upon the chest that contained the treasure. Or he may have been sauntering through a neighbour's field, when his eye is attracted by some sign that fixes him for the moment to the spot, because he knows that treasure must be there. Ages before this treasure had been hid; for him it had been prepared without any intention or labour of his, and now suddenly he lights upon it. Out of poverty he, to his own astonishment, steps into wealth, and his whole life is changed for a time without hope or effort of his own. So, says our Lord, is the kingdom of heaven. Suddenly, in the midst of other thoughts, a man is brought face to face with Christ, and while earning his daily bread and seeking no more than success in life can give him, unexpectedly finds that eternal things are his. We only think of what we can make of life, not of the wealth God has laid in our path. But suddenly our steps are arrested; circumstances that seem purely accidental break down the partition that has hemmed us in to time, and we see that eternity is ours. We thought we had a house, a hundred acres of land, a thousand pounds well invested, and we find we have God. We were comforting ourselves with the prospect of increased salary, of ampler comforts and advantages, and a voice comes ringing through our soul, "All things are yours; for ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." How it is that the eyes are now opened to this treasure, we can as little tell as the ploughman how he has never till this day seen the treasure. A few words casually dropped, some pause which allows the mind to wander in unaccustomed directions - one cannot say what is insufficient to bring the wandering and empty soul to a settled possession of the kingdom of heaven. But this morning he was content with what a man can have outside of God's kingdom, this evening everything outside that kingdom has lost its value and is as nothing. We are apt to think that, as the acceptance of Christ is the most important attainment a man can make, there ought to be some proportionate effort or expectancy on his part - that so great a treasure is not to be made over to one who is not caring for or thinking of it. But this parable shows us that there may be a finding without any previous seeking; that the essential thing is, not whether a man has been seeking, and how long and how earnestly, but whether he has found. The question is - Does a man know the value of what has turned up before him? and is he so in earnest as to sell all for it?
II. The second parable introduces us to the man who sets out with the inborn conviction or instinct that there is something worth the labour and search of a life, something to which we can wholly, freely, and eternally give ourselves up. He refuses to be satisfied with the moderate, often interrupted, often quenched joys of this world, though he considers them as goodly pearls. He goes on from one acquirement to another. Money is good, but friendship is better; he parts with the one to get the other. The respect of his fellows is good, but self-respect and a pure conscience are better. Human love is a goodly pearl, but this only quickens him to crave insatiably for the love of God. He refuses to believe that God has created us to be partially satisfied, happy at intervals, content with effort, believing ourselves blessed, but to be partakers of his own blessedness. This spirit of expectation is encouraged by the parable. It seems to say to us, "Covet earnestly the best gifts." It is not for you who have a God of infinite resource and of infinite love to accustom yourselves to merely negative blessings, and doubtful, limited conditions. There does exist a perfect condition, a pearl of great price, and there is but a question of the way to it, a question of search. You are to start with this belief, and to hold it to the end. Under no compulsion, in the face of no disappointment, give up the persuasion that into your life and soul the full sense of ample possession is one day to enter. You have certainty on your side - simple, sheer certainty; for "he that seeketh findeth." The important point in these parables is that which is common to both - the incomparable value of the kingdom of heaven, and the readiness with which one who perceives its value will give up all for it. The merchant does not part with his other possessions reluctantly when he wishes to obtain some better possession; he longs to get rid of them. People may think him mad selling out at low prices, at unsuitable times, at a loss; but he knows what he is doing. The world is full of stories that display the ingenuity, craft, perseverance, consuming zeal, spent on winning the piece of ground coveted. But is this not rather a picture of what ought to be than of what is? We see men hesitating to part with anything for the kingdom of heaven, looking at it as a sad alternative, as a resort to which they must perhaps betake themselves when too old to enjoy life any longer, but not as that on which life itself may best be spent. Entrance into it is looked upon much as entrance into the fortified town is viewed by the rural population; it may be necessary in time of danger, but it is by constraint, not from love, that they make the change. What meaning has this "selling of all" in our life? For it is to be observed that there is always this selling wherever the kingdom of heaven is won. It is what you really love that you spend thought and effort and money upon, not what you know you ought to love and are trying to persuade yourself to love. In conclusion, this parable lets fall two words of warning.
1. Make your choice and act upon it. If there is no better pearl, no higher treasure than what you can win by devotion to business and living for yourself, then by all means choose that and make the most of it. But if you think that Christ was right, if you foresee that what is outside his kingdom must perish, and that he has gathered within it all that is worthy, all that is enduring, then let the reasonableness and remonstrance of this parable move you to show some eagerness in winning that great treasure.
2. If you have this treasure, do not murmur at the price you have paid for it. Having what worlds cannot buy, you will surely not vex yourself by longing for this or that which the poorest-spirited slave of this world can easily obtain. - D.
I. THE CHIEF GOOD.
1. What is it?
(1) It is a "treasure." The allusion here may be to a pot of money or a casket of jewels "hidden in a field;" or possibly to a mine of precious ore. It is the "pearl of great price" - a stone of incomparable size, purity, and beauty. But these are only figures.
(2) Christ unites in himself all qualities of excellence and value. He is the King of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Luke 17:20-25). The monarch is the representative of the kingdom's wealth and glory (cf. John 1:16; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:3).
(3) In him are the treasures of pardons for the guilty, he has paid the great price of our redemption. In him also are the riches of purity for the believer. Purity is the title to the riches of the heaven of everlasting glory.
2. Why is it hidden?
(1) For the rousing of our faculties and quickening of our diligence (see Proverbs 2:1-7). This stimulus is an important factor in our moral education. The miner becomes skilful in mining. So the merchantman in estimating the quality and value of pearls.
(2) The diligence thus called forth enhances the value of the treasure. We value things according to the price we will pay. Also according to the price we have paid. The endurance of our faith is intimately associated with the thoroughness of our repentance.
(3) They are hidden to conceal them from the unworthy.
(a) Lest they should insult them. The swine will trample on the pearl, and turn and rend the merchantman.
(b) As a judgment upon their brutishness (cf. vers. 10-15; Isaiah 6:9).
3. From whom are they hidden?
(1) From the wise and understanding, viz. in their own conceits (cf. Matthew 11:25-27). Not many of our sophs are called.
(2) From the self-righteous. From the Pharisees, who were notably of this order, especially it was that Christ taught in parables to hide the saving truth.
(3) From the sensual. The treasure of the gospel is spiritual. It is, therefore, to be discerned by the spiritual senses. The grosser sensualism of the flesh blinds the finer sense of the spirit (cf. John 14:9).
(4) From the worldly. They can only see the surface of the field. A nobleman once gave a celebrated actress a Bible, telling her at the same time that there was a treasure in it. She, thinking he meant religion, laid the Bible aside. She died, and all she had was sold. The person who bought the Bible, on turning over its leaves, found a five hundred pound note in it. Had the actress read that book she might not only have found the note, but the "Pearl of great price."
II. ITS DISCOVERY.
1. Where is it found!
(1) In this present world. "The field is the world" (ver. 38).
(a) In that part of the world called Palestine the treasure was once hidden. Now the Pearl is to be found wherever the merchantman with sufficient diligence may seek for it (see John 4:21-24).
(b) In this present world we are probationers for eternity. If we miss the opportunities of this probation we have no promise of a second. There are no treasures of salvation for the richest of the rich men in hell (see Luke 16:26).
(2) In the Word of God. It is not to be found in nature. God's plan of salvation is not written upon the ethereal dome in the fire of the stars. It is not uttered by the tongue of thunder. We neither hear it in the roar of the sea nor in the whispers of the groves. It is the theme of holy revelation (see John 5:39).
(3) In the ordinances of religion. These are fittingly called "means of grace." In them the Word of revelation is read, expounded, preached. The Holy Spirit of inspiration is present. There by his own appointment (cf. Exodus 29:43; Matthew 18:20).
(4) In the believing heart. The blessings of salvation are revealed to faith (see Romans 10:4-10).
2. How is it to be found?
(1) Sometimes it may be found without seeking. The gospel found the Gentiles when they sought not for it (see Romans 10:19-21). Sinners in the mid-career of madness have been arrested by a word.
(2) It is always to be found by seeking. The miner may infallibly strike upon this lode. The merchantman need never miss the Pearl of great price (cf. Matthew 7:7, 8).
(3) The purpose of the seeker must be simple. To the "babes" is revealed the wisdom hidden from the "wise and understanding" (Matthew 11:25).
III. ITS EFFECT.
1. It fills the soul with joy.
(1) It brings the greatest relief. We have the treasure which discharges all our heavy liabilities to God. It delivers us from liability to the damnation of hell.
(2) It assures the highest hope. For what hope is higher than the hope of heaven? Holiness is the qualification and assurance for that hope.
(3) It is the purest joy. What joy can be purer than the love of God?
2. It inspires a holy vigilance.
(1) The finder of the hidden treasure hides it still until he can make it his own. Note: The parable does not pronounce one way or another upon the ethical question as to how far a man may take advantage of the ignorance of his neighbour. The teaching of the simile is a commendation of vigilance. The true treasure is in everybody's field. One is not deprived of it in order that another may be enriched. But the unbelieving are ready to barter for folly that which the wise will buy at any cost.
(2) But is it not the duty of the Christian to confess Christ? Undoubtedly. But how can a man confess him before he has him? The treasure is hidden only while it is in the prospect of possession.
3. It begets the true spirit of sacrifice.
(1) The wise man buys the field; then the treasure becomes his.
(2) But what does he give for it? "All that he has" (see Matthew 19:16-22).
(3) But what has a man before he finds Christ? Nothing but sin. What, then, does he "sell"? Simply sin - all his sin. Blessed riddance!
(4) What, then, does he gain? Christ. In Christ he has everything worth possessing. Blessed exchange! - J.A.M.
I. TRUE RELIGION IS A MATTER OF INDIVIDUAL CONCERN. Christ came to redeem the human race from sin; but he does it by redeeming them "one by one." Illustrate our Lord's dealing with individuals, as Nicodemus or woman of Samaria. It is easy to rest in a mere connection with Christianity; to belong to a Christian country, or a Christian family, or a Christian society. But the gospel singles the individual out, and says, "Thou art the man" - the sinner that needs Christ the Saviour.
II. TRUE RELIGION IS A MATTER OF DIRECT PERSONAL RELATIONS. This man may know of the hid treasure, but that does not satisfy him. He must have that treasure for his very own. We know of the great salvation, but that does not make it ours. Christ says, "Come unto me;" have personal dealings with me. The apostle says, "He that hath the Son," in the grip of his own personal trust and love, "hath life." Here so many fail. There must be personal appropriation. We must be able to say, "Who loved me, and gave himself for me.
III. TRUE RELIGION REQUIRES A MAN TO MAKE PERSONAL SACRIFICE. This man gave up all else to gain possession of this treasure. Everything that is worth possessing is hard to win. Illustrate by the friends seeking healing for the paralytic, and breaking up the roof in order to get to Jesus; also by the persistency of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The forms of effort and sacrifice demanded depend on the age and the disposition.
1. Intellectual pride may have to be lowered.
2. Ensnaring talents (artistic or scientific) may have to be put aside.
3. The common sneer at all who are in real earnest in spiritual religion may have to be borne.
4. All forms of self-confidence and self-reliance have to be broken down. So many entrench themselves behind their own moral goodness, and fail to get the hid treasure, because they cannot make full sacrifice of that moral goodness. - R.T.
I. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THE PEARL. Our Lord is not speaking of the future heavenly reward, which most men vaguely imagine to be very valuable. What he means by the kingdom of heaven is a present possession - the rule of God in the hearts of his people. We have to see that this is an exceedingly good thing, here and now. It is good on its own account, not for the sake of its promises of the future, not because of any further advantages which may be got out of it. Religion is meant to he an end in itself; it is abused and degraded when it is treated as a means to some other end. To gain favour with the Church, to win a reputation for piety, even to court customers in business, may be the ends of some people in their religion. But it has to be seen that such low aims utterly obscure the true glory of the gospel. The soul's darkness and misery arise from enmity against God. To be reconciled to him is its sunrise and the advent of its peace. There is no gladness on earth so pure and deep and strong as that which springs from fellowship with God enjoyed through Jesus Christ. He who has this has the pearl of great price.
II. THE MERCHANT'S QUEST. We see a merchant seeking pearls. This point distinguishes our parable from the previous one, in which a man comes unexpectedly on a hidden treasure. That parable shows how God may be found even by those who do not seek him. Now we have the reward of one who does seek brought before us. Perhaps the merchant has travelled far, and sought carefully before he has lighted on his great prize. There are men and women who earnestly set themselves to seek for what is truly worth having in life - they crave for knowledge, hunger for righteousness, thirst for God. They may be long before they are satisfied, but if they will persevere they will not be disappointed in the end. The pearl is for them.
III. THE COST OF ACQUISITION.
1. The pearl is found. This is the first step. But the pearl is not yet owned. We may see the kingdom afar off, we may be close to its borders, yet we may not have possession of it. We need to know the gospel, to see the kingdom. Then we must go further if we would make the prize our own.
2. The pearl is costly. The merchant must sell all he has acquired on his journey to buy this one pearl. Now, we know that the gospel is God's free gift; it was costly, for it cost the life of Christ on the cross; therefore it is not a cheap gospel; yet it is not bought by us, but by Christ. These facts, however do not exclude the necessity of sacrifice on our part. We can pay nothing to God. But we must renounce sin and self, and the idolizing and trusting in all things but God.
3. The price is gladly paid. The merchant is a connoisseur, and he at once recognizes the value of his great discovery. He feels that he has made a good bargain, though he has sold all to buy the pearl of great price. He who gives up all for Christ requires no commiseration, but rather congratulation, because his gain is great. - W.F.A.
great price. The parable exhibits, then, the kingdom of heaven as -
I. PRESENTING ITSELF A PRIZE TO ONE WHO SEEKS PRIZES. He has the advantage of being a business man; he knows his business; he is accustomed to weigh, and compare, and judge, and choose, and to pay accordingly. He is an expert of a trained eye, trained mind, and trained knowledge. He knows pearls, and very many of them.
II. IMPRESSING HIM IRRESISTIBLY, AS AN INCOMPARABLE, A SUPERLATIVE PRIZE.
III. JUSTIFYING HIM REASONABLY AND UNHESITATINGLY, AT THE SAME TIME, IN STAKING EVERYTHING ELSE WHATSOEVER ON THE POSSESSING HIMSELF OF THAT ONE PRIZE. This seeker, this merchant of pearls, had thought to make his advantage out of a succession of pearls, or had hoped fondly to find his fortune in many of them gathered together; but he comes to find he needs only one, that only one will answer his idea and his quest, and that it is now before him. - B.
I. SOUL SEEKING. What does a soul seek? Man seeks the true and the beautiful. Souls seek the good; and this is but a way of saying they seek God. "Man feels that he was not made in vain, there must be a centre of peace for him, a good that will satisfy all the cravings of his soul, and he is determined not to rest until it is found."
II. UNSATISFIED SOUL SEEKING. No ordinary pearls content the man. The human seeker often fancies for a time that he has found rest in things - art, science, literature, or human love. The soul never deludes itself or permits any delusions. Short of God it never rests; it cannot. Illustrate by the hopeless wail of disappointment with which Solomon closes his life quest; or by the delusion of the mirage in the desert regions.
III. SATISFIED SOUL SEEKING. Only reached when the soul gets full possession of, and calls its very own, the "Pearl of great price." To the unsatisfied soul there presently comes the voice, "None is good save one, that is God." He is good. All good is but some ray from that sun. And then the soul says, "Can I find him, can I get him, can I possess him as my own?" He can. When he does, he may say as the poet, who uses another figure -
"Now I have found the ground wherein
I. THE GOSPEL NET. Our Lord compares his method to the casting of a great net and the drawing it through the waters.
1. Christ seeks men. He spoke to fishers, who knew the sea and its commerce, and he compared his work to theirs. While the parable of the pearl of great price shows us a man seeking the kingdom, this parable presents to us the sight of the kingdom seeking men. Here is the grace of the gospel. It is further suggested by the woman sweeping for her lost coin, and the shepherd going after his wandering sheep (Luke 15.).
2. Christ uses means to gather disciples. The net may represent the preaching of the gospel, or all the agencies, first of Christ and his apostles, then of his missionary Church. We are not to wait till the world comes to Christ. We must mend our nets lest any slip through the broken meshes, and cast and drag them, using all means to gain some.
3. Christ aims at a large gathering of souls. The fisher does not angle with a line; he casts a net, and that net, the dragnet, is of the largest kind. Plainly his aim is large. Christ does not seek one here and there. He is the Saviour of the world. His love embraces all; his work is for the people.
II. THE GREAT DRAUGHT OF FISHES.
1. The net gathers in many fishes. At first the popularity of Christ won a multitude of adherents. Most of these fell away; but after Pentecost a larger host was brought in. Subsequently great numbers pressed in, till the balance of policy in the Roman empire swayed from heathenism to Christianity. "Like a sunbeam," says Eusebius, "it streamed over the face of the earth."
2. The fishes are of various kinds. The members of the Christian Church are not all of one class or type. Socially they differ, belonging to all grades and ranks; intellectually they differ, from a Newton to a simple ploughboy. But these differences are slight compared to the moral distinctions that are seen throughout Christendom. The Church includes a St. Francis and a Caesar Borgia. Church membership is no proof of Christianity.
III. THE SIFTING AND SORTING. Christ calls all kinds of people; but he does not accept all. "Many are called, but few are chosen." It is even possible to be a guest seated at the king's banquet, and yet to be cast out, if the wedding garment is not worn. Nevertheless, there is no unfairness or partiality; much less is there fickleness or unfaithfulness in Christ. He desires to accept all. If he must reject any, it is against his will, a pain to him. The rejection is not because of his caprice, but wholly because of the characters of those whom he cannot receive. But how are we to reconcile this with Christ's express declaration that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13)? The explanation is that the fish are found to be worthless when they are brought to land. If men remain sinners after entering the Church, they must be rejected by Christ. But Christ can change the sinner into a holy man, and he will do this with the truly penitent who trust him. Then they will not be like the worthless fish. - W.F.A.
a priori we should feel certain it could not be so, it needs neither long nor deep search to see that it certainly is not so. The resemblance between the two parables lies only on the surface, and not less true is it that on the very surface also lies sufficient conviction of the real difference between the two. The illustration of the kingdom of heaven furnished by this parable sets it forth -
I. AS A LARGE GATHERING OF PERSONS OF VERY VARIOUS CHARACTER, WHO HAVE ENTERED FROM THE RESTLESS WAVES OF THIS TROUBLESOME WORLD WITHIN AN ENCLOSURE, NOT OF THEIR OWN MAKING, NOT OF THEIR OWN DESIGNING, AND NOT OF THEIR OWN PLACING, AND THERE FOR A TIME KEPT TOGETHER.
II. AS A GATHERING OF DIFFERENT PERSONS, WHO, THOUGH LONG FOUND TOGETHER WITHIN THAT ENCLOSURE, WOULD AT LENGTH BE SEPARATED; BE CALLED THE GOOD OR THE BAD, THE "WICKED" OR THE "JUST;" AND BE DEALT WITH ACCORDINGLY.
III. AS A GATHERING OF SUCH AS ABOVE DESCRIBED, THE SEPARATION AMONG WHOM AT LAST WOULD BE MADE BY SOVEREIGN AND IRRESISTIBLE AND SUPREME AUTHORITY.
then; when other kingdoms have played their parts; when. things are being settled for eternity according to their value to God. It makes no practical difference in the application of the parable whether you make the net the Church, or simply the progress of all things towards eternity. Our Lord would have us consider the consummation of all things, when the great net shall at last be drawn to shore, when there shall be no more sea, no ebb and flow, especially no mingling of bad and good in an obscure and confusing element; but decision and separation, a deliberate sitting down to see what has been made of this world by us all, and a summing up on that eternal shore of all gains and results, and every man's aim made manifest by his end.
I. THIS PARABLE SUGGESTS THAT WE ARE ALL INEVITABLY ADVANCING. Our condition in this respect bears a close resemblance to fish enclosed in a net. At first, while the net is wide, they frisk and leap and seem free, but soon they discover that their advance is but in one direction, and when they halt they feel the pressure of the net. So it is with ourselves. We must go on; we cannot break through into the past; we cannot make time stand still till we resolve how to spend it. The years spent in indecision, in doubt, in self-seclusion, cannot now be filled with service of God and profit to our fellows.
II. THE NET SUGGESTS THE IDEA OF ENTANGLEMENT. Looking at fish in a net, you see many that are not swimming freely, but caught in the meshes and dragged on. Many have this interpreted by their own experience. They feel daily the pressure of the net; their position is not altogether of their own choosing, and now they discharge its duties because they must, not because they would. Such a condition may be sinful or sinless. If the duties required of you be sinful, then have you not recognized the detriment to your own soul? Do you not reflect that what was good when first entangled may be landed broken, bruised, and useless? But if the duties required of you are not violations of God's Law or offences to your own conscience, then rest satisfied with them, till God shows you a way of escape. Do not toss and struggle in the net, but quietly set yourself to make the most of the condition you have unfortunately fallen into. It may be your duty to continue in a position it was not originally your duty to enter. Just because it seems in many points unsuitable, it may call out deeper qualities within you - a patience that would otherwise have been undeveloped in you, a knowledge of man and of God that enlarges and matures your spirit. By very strange influences and means are we passing onwards, and we would often fain escape from the gentle compulsion by which God draws us to our end and bliss; and therefore must we bear in mind that however entangled and tied up we are and prevented. from our own ways and directions, this present is, after all, only the drawing of the net, and not the time of our use. We are pressing to a shore where there is room and time enough for the fulfilment of every human purpose and exercise of every faculty.
III. Again, a third thing the net shows us is THE MIXTURE IN IT. "It gathers of every kind." And until it is fairly landed it is impossible to say whether the weight is to be rejoiced in or no. It is the glory of the kingdom of heaven that there is no man to whom it is not appropriate. It does not only gather those in whom it finds something congenial, a natural susceptibility of temperament inclining them to devotion; but it gathers in of every kind because it is suited to that moral condition in respect of which there is no difference of importance between one man and another. But this mixture has its chief importance in connection with the ultimate separation. There are two great classes in which are to be forever included all other distinctions and diversities. All must pass through the hands of the Judge. By keeping God out of your thoughts now, you do not secure that you shall never think of him, and that he shall never think of you. And this is specially a parable of warning. The figure is carried out and applied only so far as it concerns the fate of the wicked. The angels sever the wicked from among the just, so that the just alone are left in the net. The fishermen have thrown the net for a purpose, and whatever is not suitable for this purpose is refuse and rubbish to them. And so it shall be in the end of the world. Men will then understand what now scarcely one can constantly believe, that it is God's purpose that is silently being accomplished, and that it is usefulness to him that is the final standard of value. This will make a rapid separation among men. Have you those qualities which would serve to carry out such purposes as you know God's to be? Do you find now so much delight in doing his commandments, in living under his eye, that you can believe that in the end he can make some use of you? Do not say, "I will not alarm myself by judging of my own qualities; I am trusting to Christ;" for precisely in so far as you are trusting to Christ you have those qualities which God will require you to show. One other thing must be observed. The fish taken in the net are disposed of by the fishermen; are in their hands as mere dead matter without choice or motion. This handling and disposing of by others is not more new to the fishes than it will be to us. Here in this world we are conscious of a power to choose and regulate our own destiny - a power to change and become something quite different from what we are. But there comes a time when whatever you are that you shall forever be; when you must abide by your choice and take all its consequences. This parable, therefore, has a most significant hint for those who decline to accept Christ on these two grounds.
1. That they do not practically need his help; that they can do all that is required of them very well without him.
2. That they do not see in the lives of those who do believe in him any such superiority as to induce them to follow their example and believe. But the difficulty now is for any serious and right-minded person to avoid accepting Christ's help. In order to do so a man would need to have been born outside of Christendom altogether. Besides, as regards conduct, can a man satisfy his conscience without Christ's help? He holds a relation to God as well as to man, and it is no apology for an unfilial attitude towards God to affirm that we fulfil all our duties to men. This parable reminds us that it is serviceableness which must determine our destiny in the future life; or, as God does not desire mere service, but the delighted cooperation of sons, it is sonship which determines our destiny. And who but Christ enables us to see what sonship is, and to become sons? As to the second reason, this parable not only admits, but makes much of the fact, that all that is within the net is by no means approved by God. But is not the kingdom as it ought to be worth striving for? Was the life of Christ misspent? and would it be a lamentable state of affairs on earth if his rule and spirit everywhere prevailed? The eternity that some are advancing towards, our Lord does not hesitate to describe as "a furnace of fire, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Surely the condition that is so sad as to occupy the souls of those who are in it with eternal lamentation ought to occupy with some feelings the hearts of those who can give no reason why they shall not be there. It is not by some other and extraordinary way that you will evade what God warns you of, but only by the timeous use of what he has long ago told you, and what you ought long ago to have used. - D.
Isaiah 5:30; Daniel 7:2, 3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:1, 15). The kingdom of heaven was first offered to the Jews, and when they rejected it, it was then carried to the Gentiles (cf. Matthew 21:43; Acts 13:46, 47). Note -
I. THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS ARE FISHERS OF MEN.
1. To this service they are called.
(1) Some of the first disciples were literally fishermen (Matthew 4:17-22). The distinction of Christ's servants is spiritual rather than social.
(2) From the lower they were promoted to the higher fishing grounds. In calling them to become fishers of men Jesus said practically, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net." Their call was a parable, a prophecy, and a sermon.
(3) Jesus found the fishermen diligent in their humble calling and promoted them. It is a dishonour to the gospel to send the weaklings of a family into the Church.
2. For this service they were equipped.
(1) Christ gave them his dragnet. This is the "Word of the kingdom." This is a dragnet that sweeps all before it.
(2) He taught them how to use it. They heard his preaching. They went forth under his commission and preached.
(3) His almighty energy went with them. The physical miracles they wrought exemplified the corresponding moral power of the truth they preached.
(4) He gave them remarkable pledges of future success. Conspicuous amongst these was the miraculous draught of fishes. That was a prophetic anticipation of the work on the Day of Pentecost.
II. THE MEN THEY GATHER ARE "OF EVERY KIND."
1. The good are enclosed in the Church.
(1) These were the fish recognized as clean according to the Law, Viz. such as have both "fins and scales" (see Leviticus 11:9, 10). By means of their fins they rise to the surface and swim in the purer water and under the clearer light of the heavens. The metallic lustre of their scales suggests the "armour of light."
(2) Anciently, the clean creatures represented the Hebrew people, who were the people of the covenant, in contradistinction to the unclean Gentiles, who were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, being without hope and atheists in the world."
(3) Now they stand for the morally good as opposed to the wicked. "For in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of him."
(4) Of the good among men, as among fishes, there are many varieties. Religion does not destroy individuality. But they have the common marks of Christian discipleship.
2. The bad also are included.
(1) these are represented by the unclean fish; those without fins or scales, as the eel, whose habits are foul, writhing in the mud. We say of cunning men that they "wriggle like eels." They may have fins like the shark, but if they have not also scales they are unclean. Men of rapacious dispositions we still call "sharks."
(2) Anciently, the unclean creatures denoted the "sinners of the Gentiles," as opposed to the "saints" or "holy people" of Israel.
(3) Now, since national distinctions in religion are abolished, the unclean are the unbelievers of every nation, Jew as well as Gentile.
3. The visible Church is therefore imperfect.
(1) The world is a vast sea, and the sons of men are "in it things creeping innumerable both small and great" (Psalm 104:25). Men in their natural state are "like fishes in the sea, and moving things that have no ruler over them" (Habakkuk 1:14).
(2) From this mass multitudes are gathered into the net of the Church. Some of the evil becomes transformed by true conversion. Others are converted only in semblance.
(3) This mixed state of things is evident in wide Christendom. It is no less real, though not equally evident, amongst communicants.
III. THE GOOD AND THE WICKED ARE DESTINED TO A FINAL SEPARATION.
1. The wicked will be separated to destruction.
(1) They are "severed," separated with violence, as by cutting or rending. They will with reluctance yield to this final separation from the good and from their hopes.
(2) They will be severed by the "angels." The angels of heaven can distinguish between the hypocrite and the true man, which the angels of the Church cannot do. As the tares among the wheat in the Jewish field, so are the bad fish among the good in the Gentile net (cf. vers. 28-30, 41).
(3) "And shall cast them into the furnace of fire." This is in allusion to the Eastern punishment of burning alive. If figures do not come up to the reality, the punishment of the sinner must be fearful in the extreme. Note: The furnace of fire is reserved for unworthy members of Churches.
(4) "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The agony of despair. The distress of impotent resentment. This, after the burning, shows that the burning of the wicked is not their consumption. Destruction, in Scripture, differs from annihilation.
2. The good will be separated to salvation.
(1) Salvation from the associations of the wicked. Those associations are now uncongenial. They are contaminating. They are damaging to the better reputation. In the new earth there will be "no more sea" (Revelation 21:1). There will be no more Gentiles in wickedness; all will be Israelites in goodness.
(2) The good will be "gathered into vessels." Are not these the antitheses of the "bundles" into which the wicked are gathered, as in the corresponding parable of the tares? Does not this suggest order and class in heavenly society?
I. THE GOSPEL NET ENCLOSES ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE. From all sorts of motives, and with very different degrees of earnestness and sincerity, men accept the gospel message, and make Christian profession. Several parables teach that the Church is a very mixed body. Mere standing in a Church is no more guarantee of acceptance with Christ than presence in the net shows the goodness of the fish.
II. THE PEOPLE CANNOT BE SORTED WHILE THEY ARE IN THE NET. Some of the fish would escape if sorting were attempted while the net was being dragged through the water. Illustrate from the parable of the tares.
III. WHEN THE NET IS DRAWN ASHORE SORTING WORK CAN BE DONE. A revealing day, a testing day, must come for us all. But no imperfect human judgment will do the great sorting work. God himself will superintend the severing of the righteous from the wicked. We will not venture to describe the wicked. We can safely describe the good. They are such as
(1) receive Christ with meekness;
(2) bring forth the fruits of righteousness;
(3) patiently continue in well doing.
So Christ's gospel, like a great net, is to be sent out into all the world, that it may, if possible, gather all men in. So the contents of the gospel net, when gathered in at last, will need, and will receive, a final sifting. - R.T.
I. CHRIST IS THE HOUSEHOLDER.
1. He is the Head of a spiritual family.
(3) His children are the sons of God. They are the children of the everlasting covenant. "Children of Abraham's faith."
(4) They are the "children of God, being children of the resurrection." Spiritually risen with Christ already. Entitled to the better resurrection of the last day.
2. He has an ample treasure for their maintenance.
(1) "His treasure." The allusion is to the householder's store for the maintenance of his establishment.
(2) The bountifulness of the store is expressed in the phrase, "things new and old." The old produce is not exhausted when the fruits of the new year are gathered in (cf. Leviticus 26:9, 10).
(3) The stores of Christ are the infinite treasure of his wisdom and knowledge. These he derived not from human sources. He never studied under the doctors of the Hebrew colleges. Yet even at the early age of twelve he could astonish them. He drew his resources from heaven (cf. John 3:36; Colossians 1:19).
(4) This store is for his children first (see Ephesians 1:6-8; Colossians 2:9, 10). The servants also have their nourishment. The dogs may be thankful for the crumbs. The world is indebted to the gospel for the better elements of its civilization.
II. HE BRINGETH FORTH OUT OF HIS TREASURE THINGS NEW AND OLD.
1. He discovers a monarchy, in humility.
(1) This was a new thing. The Jews expected the King Messiah to appear after the type of Solomon in all his glory. They had yet to learn that the "Greater than Solomon" is Jesus in his humility. The dignity and glory of suffering had never been so seen.
(2) Yet was this thing of the New Testament also in the Old. Messiah must first come in humiliation for purposes of redemption before he can appear, as he will in his second advent, "without sin unto salvation" (see Luke 24:25-27).
(3) In the depths of his humility he asserts Divine claims. He claims to be the Son of God (see John 10:36). To be the Lord of the sabbath day (see Mark 2:27, 28; Luke 6:5). To be David's Lord though David's Son (Matthew 22:41-46). To have power on earth to forgive sins (see Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21-26).
2. He proclaims a spiritual kingdom.
(1) This was a new thing. Secular kingdoms were old enough. So familiar were these that the Jews expected Messiah to establish a "kingdom under the Whole heaven" after their type (see Daniel 7:27).
(2) What, then, was their astonishment, while they were dreaming of release from the Roman yoke, and ruling the Gentiles with a rod of iron, to be told that the kingdom "cometh not with observation;" that it is a spiritual kingdom "within," in the heart?
(3) What was their astonishment when they heard the requisites which made it hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom?
(4) When they heard that love is the principle of the kingdom? Not only love supreme to God, but love also to the brotherhood. Love, moreover, to our neighbour, which is every man. Love even to our enemies. Such love as constrains us to bless when we are cursed, to requite hatred with benevolence, to answer persecution with supplication (see Matthew 5:43-45).
3. In his gospel he fulfils the Law.
(1) That Messiah should dignify and perfect the Law of Moses was nothing new to the Jews. They looked for this. But the manner of its accomplishment astonished them.
(2) They did not see that in his death he should become the autitype of all the sacrifices; that summing up in himself all their virtues, and infinitely more, they should disappear, and henceforth be seen only in his cross.
(3) It was new that henceforth the ablutions of Leviticus should be seen in the gift of the Holy Ghost.
(4) It was new that the gospel should so bring out the spirit of the "Law of commandments contained in ordinances" as to render obsolete the letter.
III. HE ENCOURAGES THE SONS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.
1. He instructs them in his wisdom.
(a) The doctrines of his gospel.
(b) The evidences of his religion.
(c) The practical ends for which it is instituted.
Without Divine illumination no man can attain to this knowledge.
(2) The question, "Have ye understood all these things?" suggests:
(a) That it is the will of Christ that those who read and hear his Word should understand it. This is an encouragement to study.
(b) That Divine truths must not be lightly passed over.
(c) That he is ready to explain to his disciples what may be obscure. This is an encouragement to prayer.
(3) The answer, "Yea, Lord," shows that the explanations which the disciples received of the parables of the sower and of the tares opened to them the meaning of the other parables (cf. Mark 4:13). Truth is the key to truth (see Proverbs 8:8, 9; Proverbs 14:6).
2. He commends their proficiency.
(1) He styled them scribes. The scribe among the Jews was a person versed in the letter of the Old Testament. Some of them had knowledge also in its spirit. Ezra was "a ready scribe in the Law of Moses." He "prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord" (Ezra 7:6, 10).
(2) But the disciples of Jesus were more. They were made "disciples to the kingdom of heaven." Herein they were greater than the greatest of the old prophets (see Matthew 11:11). Note: He who undertakes to preach Christ should know Christ. A minister may be a linguist, a mathematician, a scientist, a politician, but unless he is "instructed in the kingdom of heaven" he is not qualified (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
(3) Like his Lord:
(a) He must have a "treasure."
(b) From it he must" bring forth."
He must not bury his talents. A good pastor must not, like a miser, hoard his knowledge. He must not, like a merchant, make gain of it.
(4) He too must bring forth "things new and old." No man can understand the Old Testament but by means of the New. The Old Testament is the best commentary upon the New. Old truths should come forth with new expression, and with new affection and emotion. - J.A.M.
I. THE TEACHER MUST BE TRAINED. He must be "a disciple to the kingdom of heaven." Secular training is valuable. As the Magi brought their wealth and poured it out before the infant Jesus, so the learned and the intellectual may well bring all their mental acquisitions to be used in the service of Christ. There is no merit in ignorance. Dulness is not devotion; stupidity is not sanctity. Nevertheless, it is not of the very valuable general training of which our Lord here speaks. It is possible to be highly cultivated in the schools and yet quite a tyro in the kingdom. The essential training of the Christian teacher must be a Christian training. As the lawyer must study law and the doctor medicine, so the Christian scribe must study Christianity. It is strange that any should think themselves fit to teach others the greatest of truths without first devoting especial attention to learning them. It is well that the Christian minister should know his Homer and his Cicero; but it is monstrous that he should be satisfied with an acquaintance with the pagan classics, without acquiring at least an equally familiar knowledge of the New Testament, which it is his life work to teach. Now, the discipleship of the kingdom is not a merely intellectual schooling. It is more than learning the letter of Scripture. Only that living grasp of spiritual truth which comes from a sympathetic study of it, interpreted by experience, can fit one to teach it to others.
II. THE TEACHER MUST BRING FORTH NEW TREASURES. He must not be a mere machine grinding out exactly the same ideas year after year. Yet he is not to invent notions of his own and give them forth as Divine revelations. The treasury to which he is to go for his materials is the sacred Scriptures. How, then, can he find anything new?
1. By new insight. Each is to read for himself. There is always a freshness in what we perceive ourselves, even if others have perceived it before. To us, at least, it is new; and our own living apprehension of it gives it a new vitality for others.
2. With fresh applications. Truth is ever assuming new colours as it is reflected on fresh objects. The Christian teacher has to apply truths of the Bible to present circumstances. It is not his business to linger among the archaeological conditions of ancient Israel, but to show how the revelation of God concerns the England of today.
3. Because of the inexhaustible fulness of the Bible. There is always fresh light for earnest eyes.
III. THE TEACHER MUST NOT NEGLECT OLD TREASURES. An idea does not cease to be valuable because it is old. Truth is eternal Facts remain. The great events of Bible history are always speaking to us; they have living lessons for our own day. The experiences of psalmist and apostle are true to the heart of man, and types of devotion for all time; we cannot afford to forget them. Above all, the revelation of Christ, though now old in centuries, is still fresh and living. We can never outgrow the gospel. Bethlehem and Calvary will always be the centres of our most helpful meditations. The new truth is only inspiring when it springs out of the old, which it does not obscure, which rather it explains and exalts. - W.F.A.
them, and which were spoken in the house. Nevertheless, the Evangelist Matthew furnishes us with the suggestive link, which consists of the fifty-third verse. The parables, with all their Divine fulness of meaning, whether more or less mystic, and whether those to the multitude and disciples, or to the disciples alone, are for the present "finished." But "wisdom and mighty works" are not finished; and he who speaks the wisdom and who does the mighty works journeys untiringly elsewhere, and with his face toward "his own country." Notice -
I. A CERTAIN POSITION OF HUMAN NATURE HERE DESCRIBED - VIZ. CONVICTION ITSELF, CONFRONTED BY A STUMBLING BLOCK. The "wisdom" and the "mighty works" are not denied, are not doubted; are asserted and proclaimed. The material of conviction was all present, and its work asserted itself. The way is surely perfectly plain for the human mind, and what further need be said?
II. A CERTAIN ATTITUDE OF HUMAN NATURE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES DESCRIBED. It is an uneasy attitude, one of uncertainty, one of casting about, how it is possible to make a difficulty, to get over, and conquer plain duty. It may be readily granted that there did exist a difficulty not inconsiderable for those who are here spoken of; that a difficulty was present in the very existence of so great a cause for wonder; that the difficulty was not lessened by the fact that he who was now the centre of observation and of admiration, and, to say the least of it, of unparalleled surprise, had been one familiarly known, and his family familiarly known, and familiarly known not as among those who were princes of the world in wealth, or in station, or in power and exalted sphere of influence.
III. A CERTAIN UNSATISFACTORY, INCONSEQUENTIAL, AND UTTERLY RECKLESS TREATMENT OF THE DILEMMA BETWEEN THE DIFFICULTY AND THE CONFESSED TO CONVICTION. It is the treatment called defiance. The difficulty is not reasoned out to the end; nor is it treasured in reverent patience to await further light; nor is its comparative, practical, unimportance acknowledged, and permitted to relegate it to its proper subordinate place. But the difficulty is petted and made much of, while conviction is defied, and conscience is dishonoured. These are bowed off the solemn scene; and with them another retreats awhile at least. It is he of whom it is said, "He could do no mighty work there, save that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them;" and again, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief;" and, "He marvelled because of their unbelief." Some day later, when their eyes were perforce opened, and something beside their eyes also, what a marvel, what a reproach, what a remorse, that identical instance and working of "unbelief" must have been to them! - B.
Luke 4:16), he taught the Nazarenes in their synagogue. They had formerly rejected him, and now he receives from them no better treatment. In the narrative before us we see evidence of -
I. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF PREJUDICE.
1. The Nazarenes were astonished at his wisdom.
(1) His parables, the fame of which had probably reached them, evinced it. Not only do they open the mysteries of spiritual wealth. They prophesied also things to come. A fool could no more utter a parable than a cripple gracefully dance (see Proverbs 26:7).
(2) It was evinced in his teaching in their synagogue. Not only was his doctrine astonishing, but also the manner in which he was wont to confound the doctors when they ventured to question him.
2. So were they astonished at his miracles.
(1) He had, probably, formerly wrought miracles among them. The fame of his wonderful works at Capernaum had certainly reached them (see Luke 4:23) They had ocular proofs of his power in that he now "laid his hand upon a few sick folk, and healed them" (see Mark 6:5).
(2) The wisdom and power of Jesus should have conducted them to a believing recognition of his Person. They rested in astonishment. Astonishment is no substitute for faith. It can consist with prejudices. Miracles may confirm, but they cannot produce, faith. Faith is of the heart. It is in the honest heart from God.
3. They rejected the evidence of both. Prejudice has its reasons, but they refute themselves.
(1) The Nazarenes rejected the claims of Jesus because they did not see whence he derived his wisdom and power. The rational conclusion would have been that if he did not receive them from the doctors of the Law or from any human source, then he must have had them from heaven.
(2) They objected that he was the "carpenter's Son." But the carpenter was of the house and lineage of David (see Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:27). And Messiah must be the "Son of David" in order to satisfy the prophets.
(3) They objected that "his mother was called Mary." She was of too humble a station to have any splendid title. Yet was this Mary by descent a princess of the great house of David. Moreover, she was the mother of the Son of God. Mary's miraculous conception seems to have been unknown to them. Prejudices are fostered by ignorance.
(4) They could name his brothers, and his sisters they knew, though they did not deem them worthy of being named. Note: Those who should know Christ best are often most ignorant of him. "Mean and prejudiced spirits are apt to judge of men by their education, and to inquire more into their rise than into their reasons" (Henry). "His sisters, are they not all with us? Note: How thoroughly is Christ one with us" - Immanuel!
II. ITS DIREFUL CONSEQUENCES.
1. It hardened the Nazarenes in their unbelief.
(1) "They were offended in him." Their astonishment was their offence. Prejudice is offended in wisdom, and resists the demonstration of power. Superior merit is envied, and envy turns the knowledge it has to the disadvantage of the envied.
(2) If we approach the Scriptures in a cavilling humour we shall remain in ignorance, and become hardened in unbelief.
2. It exposed them to the reproof of Christ.
(1) "Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." Note: A prophet should have honour. A man of God is a great man. The Son of God, how great!
(2) But familiarity breeds contempt. The contempt a prophet experiences abroad is nothing to that he experiences at home. Even Columbus, when meditating the discovery of America, had to seek patrons out of his own country.
3. It led to their abandonment.
(1) "And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Unbelief is an impediment to the performance of miracles. Hence the question, "Dost thou believe that I am able to do this?" "Unbelief is a sin that locks up the heart of a sinner, and binds up the hand of the Saviour" (Flavel).
(2) Christ did not judge it suitable to obtrude his miracles upon the Nazarenes. "A few sick folk" among them had faith to be healed. "Many" remained in their misery "because of their unbelief."
(3) "The reason why mighty works are not wrought now is not that the faith is everywhere planted, but that unbelief everywhere prevails" (Wesley). "All things are possible" to the faith of promise (cf. Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:8).
(4) Soon after this Jesus finally abandoned the Nazarenes. Their pride and envy and resentment became their desolation and destruction. And those who now reject the claims of Christ are even less excusable than they, since they despise the additional evidence of his resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. - J.A.M.
I. THE FACT. Jesus was a carpenter's Son; St. Mark tells us that he was himself a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and it is not to be supposed that he would have lived for thirty years in the humble Nazareth home without ever contributing to its maintenance.
1. Jesus was a complete Man. He was not a mere appearance of man. He took on him man's life and its toil.
2. Jesus belonged to the artisan class. He was so truly human, so large in his sympathies, that we cannot connect any class prejudices with him. He would not side unfairly with labour against capital, any more than he would with capital against labour. Still, if there is one class which beyond all others we may be sure he does not forget or misunderstand, it is that of handicraftsmen. Working men should claim Christ as one of themselves.
3. He was trained in a secular calling. He was not brought up in a monastery; he did not spend his time in's church. His school was the carpenter's workshop. Among the shavings and sawdust his thoughts rose to heaven and the redemption of man. A wholesome secular training is a help and not a hindrance to the spiritual life.
II. HOW IT WAS REGARDED.
1. Jesus was judged by his circumstances. Other grounds of judgment were not wanting. The people of Nazareth listened to the wonderful teaching of Christ, and it astonished them. Yet they only turn to the well known external facts in coming to a conclusion about the Teacher. They seem to be attempting to dispel what they regard as the glamour of his words by the bard, common circumstances that are familiar to them. Thus men will judge by the outside, by the earthly, by the conventional.
2. Jesus was rejected where he was best known. He was judged by his circumstances and his family, all familiar to the Nazareth townsfolk. Perhaps the character of his relatives was not such as to inspire great respect; but we have no hint of this. Social inferiority and familiar homeliness were enough. Therefore we do not lose much by not having seen Jesus in his earthly life.
III. THE UNHAPPY RESULTS. Nazareth suffered for its rejection of the one Man who has since given eternal fame to the hitherto obscure Galilaean town. The sick went unhealed. A chill fog of unbelief crept over the community and quenched the gracious curative influences of the Saviour. Unbelief is a fatal hindrance to the work of Christ. It is not that he is offended and will not help. It is that the very possibility of aid is cut off. Christ's miracle working was dependent on the faith of its subjects, and when they were unbelieving he simply could not heal. "According to thy faith be it unto thee" was a common remark. Spiritually, Christ cannot save those who do not trust him, though he desires to save all, and this is the simple explanation of the miserable fact that all are not saved. Faith is not an artificial condition. It is the link of connection with Christ. If this link is missing we cannot have living relationship with him. - W.F.A.
nothing but a carpenter; he had received no training whatever in the rabbinical schools. He was no educated and authorized rabbi, and that they knew very well. Hillel, the greatest rabbi of the same age as Joseph, though he was a descendant of David, spent most of his life in the deepest poverty as a common workman.
I. A SURPRISE THAT PROPERLY EXCITED THOUGHT. Jesus certainly was an unusual Teacher. He dealt with unusual subjects in an unusual way, and with an unusual attractiveness and authority. There were no such subtle distinctions as exhibited the great learning of the rabbis; but men had skill enough to recognize unusual and extraordinary intellectual as well as moral power in Christ. It was quite right for them to think about such a strange fact and phenomenon. It is quite right for us to think about it. We may well say to one another, "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he?"
II. A SURPRISE THAT RECEIVED MISTAKES EXPLANATIONS. Exactly how they explained the fact they admitted we are not told; but it is quite clear that prejudice blinded their eyes, and prevented their getting any true ideas of Christ. No doubt they accused him of conceited self-assertion. He was pushing himself to the front, and talking big, as if he were better than his brothers and sisters. They were offended at him, and thought unkind things of him. Illustrate by the things prejudiced men say of Christ now.
III. A SURPRISE THAT CAN HAVE A SATISFACTORY EXPLANATION. This man was taught of God; was a Prophet of God who received Divine messages; nay, was the Son of God revealing the things of the Father-God to men. Never mind about remembering him when he was a boy. Never mind about his never having gone to a school of the rabbis. Never mind his having toiled at the carpenter's bench. Fix thought on what he is - the divinely taught Teacher and Saviour of men. - R.T.