The Group in Matt. xiii.
"The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables." -- MATT. xiii.1-3.

In Matthew's narrative, the first specimen of that peculiar pictorial method which characterized the teaching of our Lord, is not an isolated parable occurring in the midst of a miscellaneous discourse, but a group of seven presented in one continuous and connected report. Nor is the grouping due to the logical scheme of the Evangelist; we have here, not the historian's digest of many disjointed utterances, but a simple chronological record of facts. In this order have these seven parables been recorded by the servant, because in this order they were spoken by the Lord. It does not in the least detract from the soundness of this judgment to concede that some of them were spoken also in other circumstances and other combinations. There is no ground whatever for assuming that one of our Lord's signal sayings could not have been spoken in one place, because it can be proved that it was spoken at another. From the nature of the subjects, and the form which Christ's ministry assumed, it might be confidently anticipated that the parables and other sharply relieved similitudes would recur, in whole or in part, in different discourses and before different assemblies: with this supposition accordingly the facts agree, as they may be gathered from a synopsis of the several narratives.

Among the later German critics, it is distinctly conceded by Lange that these seven parables were spoken by the Lord in the order of Matthew's record, although some of them appear to have been spoken also at other times. If it could have been proved that none of the parables had ever been spoken a second time, the circumstance would have constituted a non-natural and inexplicable phenomenon.

A measure of logical order and reciprocal relation has always been observed in this cluster of parables. While some of the relations, and these the most important, are so obvious that they have been observed alike by all inquirers, in regard to others a considerable diversity of opinion has prevailed. Some, in the sequences of the group, look only for various phases of the kingdom, presented in logical divisions and sub-divisions: others find here, in addition, a prophetic history of the Church, like that which the Apocalypse contains. For my own part I am disposed to confine my view to that which I consider sure and obvious, -- the representation of the kingdom of God in different aspects, according to a logical arrangement, not pronouncing judgment regarding the soundness of the prophetic view, but simply passing it by, as being from its nature difficult and dim.

The first six readily fall into three successive well-defined pairs, and the seventh stands clearly designated by its subject as an appropriate conclusion. The first pair exhibit the RELATIONS of the kingdom to the several classes of intelligent creatures with which, as adversaries or subjects, it comes into contact: the second pair exhibit the PROGRESS of the kingdom from small beginnings to a glorious issue: the third pair exhibit the PRECIOUSNESS of the kingdom, in comparison with all other objects of desire: and the remaining one teaches that the good and evil which intermingle on earth will be completely and finally separated in the great day. Thus --

{ 1. The Sower; the relation of the
{ kingdom to different classes of
I. RELATIONS..........{ men.
{ 2. The Tares; the relation of the
{ kingdom to the wicked one.

{ 1. The Mustard-seed; the progress
{ of the kingdom under the idea
{ of a living growth.
II. PROGRESS...........{ 2. The Leaven; the progress of the { kingdom under the idea of a
{ contagious outspread.

{ 1. The Hid Treasure; the preciousness
{ of the kingdom under the
{ idea of discovering what was hid.
III. PRECIOUSNESS.......{ 2. The Goodly Pearl; the preciousness { of the kingdom under the
{ idea of closing with what is
{ offered.

{ The Draw-net; the separation between
IV. SEPARATION.........{ good and evil in the { great day.

It is not a valid objection to this division that in several cases, if not in all, the subjects reciprocally overlap each other; it is, in the circumstances, natural and necessary that they should. Thus, in regard to the first pair, the work of the adversary appears in the sower, and the contact of believers with unbelievers appears in the tares; but I think these are in either case incidental and subordinate, while the leading idea of the first is the reception given to the gospel by different classes of men, and the leading idea of the second is the wile of the devil in his effort to destroy the work of Christ.

We must, however, beware of giving too much and too minute attention to the sequences and mutual relations of the parables. Most of them, in point of fact, are found in the narrative as isolated lessons, each complete in itself and independent of others. Even in this group, although the connections are interesting and obvious, they are not essential. The meaning of each specimen may be substantially discerned without reference to its place in the series. By studying each apart you may learn the lesson well; but by studying all together you may learn the lesson better.

On the face of the narrative it appears that the first four were addressed to a multitude congregated on the margin of the lake, and the last three more privately to a smaller circle of disciples in a neighbouring house; but there seems no ground for supposing that the two portions were separated from each other by any considerable interval of time or space.

I freely concede that there is some ground for the distinction between the more outward and obvious aspects of the kingdom presented in the first four, and the more inward and experimental matters which, in the last three, were subsequently communicated to a more private circle; but the distinction, though real and perceptible, does not appear to me so fundamental and so deeply marked as to justify those who make it the turning-point of their exposition.

There is a parallel which the thoughtful reader of the Scriptures will not fail to observe, although a prudent expositor will beware of attempting to trace it too minutely, between the seven parables of this chapter and the epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia, in the beginning of the Apocalypse. The two groups agree in this, that both represent by a series of examples various features of the kingdom, and various obstacles with which it must contend: they differ in that, while the examples given in the Gospels are pictures drawn by the imagination, the examples given in the Apocalypse are facts taken from history. But as all the characteristics and vicissitudes of his Church were present to the Head from the beginning, it was as easy for him to exhibit an image of its condition through the ministry of Matthew, as to record examples after they emerged in fact, through the ministry of John. In both cases -- alike in the pictures presented to the Galilean crowd and the registered events sent to the Asiatic Churches -- the Master's design is to exhibit the kingdom on all its sides, that the observer's view, whether of beauties or of blemishes, may be correct and full.

I subjoin for the reader's information the view of those who see in this series of parables the subsequent historical development of the Church, as it is briefly and clearly expressed by Lange: "We ... trace in the parable of the sower a picture of the apostolic age; in the parable of the tares, the ancient Catholic Church springing up in the midst of heresies; in the parable of the mustard-bush resorted to by birds of the air as if it had been a tree, and loaded with their nests, a representation of the outward Church as established under Constantine the Great; in the leaven that is mixed among the three measures of meal, the pervading and transforming influence of Christianity in the mediaeval Church among the barbarous races of Europe; in the parable of the treasure in the field, the period of the Reformation; in the parable of the pearl, the contrast between Christianity and the acquisitions of modern culture and secularism; and in the last parable a picture of the closing judgment."

The parallel which the same critic institutes between the seven parables of this group and the seven beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, is an attractive study, and some of the coincidences are obvious and beautiful; but this line of observation should be jealously kept subordinate to the primary substantial lesson which each parable contains. On the one hand, I desire that these secondary and incidental views should not by their beauty draw to themselves a disproportionate share of our attention; and on the other hand, I am disposed to respect every earnest, sober, and reverential suggestion which any believing inquirer may throw out, regarding the lateral references and under-current secondary meanings of the Lord's discourses; for they possess a length and breadth, and height and depth, which will exercise the minds of devout disciples as long as the dispensation lasts, and pass all understanding when it is done.

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