In the last chapter, the parable of the sower engaged attention. It bears particularly on the individual results of the word preached.
The Parable of the Tares. -- The parable of the tares deals with a larger matter. It deals with "the kingdom of heaven" in a history extending to the rectification of all things. The kingdom of heaven is a phrase interchangeable with the kingdom of God as we saw on page 115. We must have in view the truth concerning the kingdom of God before we can understand parables that illustrate it. The kingdom of God is not exclusively an affair of futurity, though it mostly belongs to the future. The foundation of it has been laid in what God has already done upon the earth. His work with Israel by Moses -- his work by Christ -- have both contributed important and powerful elements; and even his work in Providence among the Gentile nations is doing something towards it in the way of preparing the earth and mankind. When the kingdom is finally and fully established, it will have been "prepared from the foundation of the world." The parable of the tares represents that phrase of it that embraced the personal work of Christ. This appears from Christ's explanation. We will look at that explanation item by item: "A man sowed good seed in the field." Explanation -- The sower, Christ: the field, the (Jewish) world: the good seed, the truth, as embodied in its true believers. "While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat." Explanation -- The enemy, the devil, consisting of the authorities of the nation, who everywhere stealthily neutralised the teaching of Christ, disseminating evil doctrines, and scattering wide their sypathisers and disciples, who drew away the people, and multiplied their own number greatly by the energy of their operations and the popularity of their influence. "When the blade was sprung up and brought forth fruit, then appeared forth tares also." Explanation -- When Christ's teaching began to take effect in the development of earnest disciples, the result was not so general as might have been expected, for the Scribes and Pharisees had meanwhile been very busy on the quiet, and out of the sight of Christ, and the people sided with them in larger numbers than would have been the case if they had been let alone to consider the works and words of Christ for themselves. "So the servants of the householder came and said unto him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, an enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?" Explanation -- The surprise of the Apostles that the people did not submit to the word of Christ, and their proposal (as on one occasion) that they should command that fire should come down from heaven and destroy them. "But he said, Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them." Explanation -- The destruction of the wicked would have interfered with the development of the righteous, which requires that the wicked prosper for a while in their disobedience. "Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn." Explanation -- Both the wheat-class and the tare-class in Israel to be left unmolested till the arrival of their respective times, to be dealt with "according to their deeds." The tare-class to be harvested "first": the wheat-class afterwards -- the one a long time after the other, as the event has proved. The harvesting to be performed by the angels in both cases, under Christ's command, but the harvesting of the tares to be done in the way of Providence, in which the angels work by influencing natural circumstances, while the harvest of the wheat would be done by them in an open and visible manner. The parable has been nearly all fulfilled, except the glorious part which is still future. "First" as the parable required, at the end of the Jewish world, the tare-class were gathered into Jerusalem, as into a furnace of fire, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, where they were destroyed with every circumstance of suffering and horror, as a study of the details of Josephus' account of the devastation of Judea, and the destruction of Jerusalem, nearly forty years after Christ's ascent to "all power in heaven and earth," will abundantly shew to the reader. Thus were retributively "gathered out of his kingdom all things that offended" during his personal ministry, and "them who did iniquity." The kingdom of the Holy Land is his kingdom which enables us to understand the interpretation. If we supposed with modern theologians that "his kingdom" was "heaven" or the "church," it would be difficult to apply the statement that he is to gather the workers of iniquity out of his kingdom. But with an understanding of the kingdom, there is no such difficulty. The destruction of the whole generation of Jews that were honoured by his presence and wonderful works, and proved themselves so utterly unworthy by rejecting and crucifying him, enables us to recognise the historic application of a parable which was at the same time a prophecy. The gathering of the wheat is next in order -- tares "first," -- wheat afterwards. The wheat-class will be gathered openly by the angels at Christ's return. "He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven even to the other" (Matt. xxiv. 31). The "gathering of the wheat into the barn" will have its fulfilment in the entrance of the righteous into the Kingdom of God. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." It reads as if the shining forth of the righteous in the Kingdom would be immediately after the gathering out of the Kingdom of all that do iniquity, but the scope of the parable compels us to attach the larger meaning of "then" to its use in this case. When we say, "first this, then that," we do not define time, but order. "First the tares, then the wheat" gives no indication of the length of the interval. As a matter of history, it has already run into more than 1800 years. The righteous will shine forth in the kingdom when the angels come forth to gather them for an entrance therein. It is a long time since the tares were burnt up on the same spot with fire unquenchable. It does not follow from this that there is no judgment and rejection of the unfaithful at the second coming of Christ. There is a place for every part of truth: and one part of the truth is that the tares of Christ's own day were cast into a furnace of fire for consumption within forty years or so of the utterance of the parable.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed. -- "Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." This is a parable which carries its meaning on its face. Least of all things among men at the beginning: greatest of all things at the end: such is the kingdom of God in every aspect in which it can be viewed, -- whether as first planted in the earth in the promises; or as first introduced to any man called to be an heir thereof; or as first manifested in the earth at Christ's return. When first planted in the promises, it was confined to one old man who must have seemed demented as he sallied forth from the midst of his friends to an unknown land, or as he afterwards sojourned among the inhabitants of Canaan with the quiet confidence that he would one day be the possessor of "all these countries." What an indescribable contrast to this will be the occupancy of Palestine by Abraham and his multitudinous seed with Christ at their head, not only as the joyful inheritors of the most glorious of lands, reinstated in more than its original glory, but as the rulers of the entire habitable globe, whose enlightened inhabitants will joyfully repair to worship God and make obeisance at Jerusalem. When first introduced to a man's notice, in the testimony of the gospel, the kingdom seems to him the most insignificant of his personal affairs. Slowly his view enlarges until he begins to discern its importance, and submits to the requirements associated with it. At last he dies in the confidence of the hope thereof; and at the resurrection, he awakes to find all his personal affairs perished and gone, except this one momentous element of them -- that he is an heir of the Kingdom of God which he enters in the unspeakable joy of a glorified nature and a position of everlasting power and honour, friendship and joy. Finally, when Christ steals into the world as a thief, the Kingdom of God arrived in his person is the smallest political fact on earth for the time being; but soon, the mustard seed sprouts. He awakes the dead; he gathers them to judgment with the few living who stand related to his tribunal; he separates the unworthy element from among them; with the accepted and glorified remnant he commences belligerent operations against "the kings of the earth and their armies" -- first shattering the Gogian hosts encamped against Jerusalem; then proceeding in detail against all countries and all governments, till the whole fabric of human power is prostrated in the dust, and the Kingdom of God the only ruling authority on the earth. A knowledge of the Kingdom of God is the easy key to the parable of the mustard seed.
The Parable of the Leaven. -- "Another parable spake he unto them, the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened." There have been fanciful interpretations of this. The leaven has been taken in its evil sense (for it was undoubtedly used to denote the spreading tendency of evil principles). It has been suggested that Christ meant the working of apostacy in the Church till Christendom should be overrun with error. In this interpretation, the woman is taken as "the church," and the "three measures of meal," as the three great ecclesiastical divisions of Christendom -- the Greek Church, the Roman Church, and the Protestant communions. There is a certain superficial appropriateness in this that is pleasing at its first proposal: but deeper thought will not confirm it. Jesus spoke his parable with a meaning that his discerning hearers could penetrate. The coming state of the Christian world so-called was certainly not within their horizon; and it is not likely that Jesus would concern himself with the temporary triumph of darkness as the subject of a parable, or that he would speak of such a triumph as a matter in which the kingdom of God was "like" something else. In the Apocalypse, apostate Christendom is spoken of as "the court which is without (outside) the (mystical) temple," and which was not to be measured because "given to the Gentiles." It would be incongruous if a system sustaining such a relation to the divine regards should have been the subject of a parable speaking of it as "the kingdom of heaven." We must look for an interpretation that will steer clear of such an anomaly. It is not difficult to find one. Leaven has characteristics apart from evil. One of these is its tendency to quietly work in secret with a power that will conquer a mass out of all proportion to its own bulk. A small quantity divided among three "batches" will leaven the whole. It is evident this is the aspect in which Christ finds a likeness to the kingdom of God. His work is "hid" "till the whole is leavened." This is the feature -- a change extending to a certain "whole" brought about by a something "hid" and working quietly. As in the Case of the mustard seed, so in this; it is not difficult to see a perfect parallel in the relation of the kingdom of God to the earth in which we dwell. It was a long time ago put into the mass or bulk of human affairs, as leaven is put into dough. The form in which it was so introduced was the word and work of God "at sundry times and divers manners." It has been quietly affecting them ever since. In the laws established in Israel; in the word written by the Spirit, and studied by the faithful; in the gospel preached by the apostles, and received, more or less intelligently by thousands, there has been a gradual modification of the state of things on earth, apart from which, the whole world would have been in the condition of the uncivilized races at this day. A principal part of the work done in this leavening process has been the development in all the ages of a people in harmony with God, from Abel downwards; who, in the further unfolding of the process, will re-appear in the land of the living, and be made use of in the position of governors of mankind, to powerfully affect the populations of the globe with the word-leaven till all are brought into sympathy with God, and the glory of the Lord fills the earth as the water covers the sea.
The Parable al the Hid Treasure. -- "Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found he hideth, and for joy thereof, goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." The discovery of hid treasure is not so frequent an occurrence in our time as to enable us so readily to see the aptness of this comparison as those would see it who lived in the days of Jesus in the countries of the east. It is, however, even for us, easy to understand the pleasureable excitement with which a man would discover that a certain piece of land contained a mine of wealth, and the promptness and energy with which he would contrive to find the means of purchase. This is the point of the comparison. The kingdom of God is the hid treasure. The title to it is contained within the promises, and offered to men. But in the days of Jesus, these promises and this offer were not widely known. There was nothing for the bulk of mankind but the present life, with its imperfection and its shortness. When a man got to know that God had offered life eternal and a kingdom to all who should conform with the requirements associated with the offer, he was in the position of a man making a sudden and unexpected discovery of treasure trove; and this parable gives us to understand that Jesus expects that a man becoming acquainted with this supreme fact will be as enthusiastic and prompt and enterprising in his measures for securing its advantages as men always are to secure temporal wealth when suddenly brought within their reach.
The Pearl of Great Price. -- "A merchant man, seeking goodly pearls, found one pearl of great price, and went and sold all that he had and bought it." The evident lesson of this is the same as in the parable of the treasure hid in the field, only it is put in a stronger light. The finder of the treasure in the field appears only as an accidental finder. In this case, the man is on the outlook for something good to buy, and, finding a particular gem, recognises its value so decisively as to sell his whole stock that he might obtain it. The parallel intended by Christ is that of a thoughtful man pondering life with a view to find good, and discovering the gospel of the kingdom, and God's invitation associated with it, perceives that it is of a value with which nothing else in human reach can be compared, and therefore bends his whole energy that he may attain it. The faithfulness of this to human experience will be most appreciated by those who have the most clearly seen and grasped the truth as it is in Jesus. Investigation, study, and labour are all found fruitless at the last when not directed towards God and His purpose in Christ. The part offered by God in him is the only "good tiling that shall not be taken away." This was Christ's description of it in the house of Martha and Mary, when he commended Mary's unmistakeable preference for the things of God.
The Parable of the Net. -- "Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was east into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away." This is another phase of matters. It refers to what may be called the collective results of the offer of the kingdom in the preaching of the gospel, as distinguished from the individual applications suggested by the parables of the treasure and goodly pearl. Jesus called the apostles "fishers of men" (Matt. iv. 19). Their business was to take out of the sea of human life, for God's after use, a proportion of the rational creatures swimming in its waters. In the parable, we are shown the implement by which the fishing was to be performed -- the kingdom preached was the net let down into the sea. The parable is of great value in one way. It shows us that the collective results of gospel word are not all genuine: that is, that the mere acceptance of the truth and enclosure in its net by the preliminary submission to baptism is not a certain guarantee of fitness for divine selection. If we were not plainly taught this, we should be perplexed at the result of the truth's operations. Imagining that everyone who received the truth must necessarily show the spirit of the truth, we should be distressed at the fact that comparatively few show themselves true disciples of Christ. But here is this parable: "every kind" in the net, including "bad" that are "cast away." The meaning is placed beyond doubt by Christ's interpretation: "The angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." This puts everyone on his guard, and prevents him from leaning on man. Even a "brother" is but contingently a son of God. Our trust must be in what is written -- not in mortal man's thought or utterance. If we lean on a brother because he is a brother, without reference to whether he reflects the mind of the Spirit or no, it might turn out that we are following one of the useless fish, that is, permitted to swim in the net for the time being. It has been a question with some why useless fish should be allowed to be enclosed in the net of gospel operations. There need be no question. Man's part is to accept facts -- not question them. But the question is not without an answer, if we could know it. It is not difficult to conceive that if everyone admitted to the fellowship of the gospel were truly begotten of God, that fellowship would be too sweet to allow of the development of spiritual hardihood, which is the object of probation. "Coddling" never tends to strong or proper growth. We require to be thrown upon ourselves and upon God. There is nothing like a little rough usage for this: and no rough usage comes home like that experienced from fellow-fish, who snap and bite like dog-fish among herrings. The odiums and the oppositions of "those who are without" have scarcely a sting. But the enmity of those who are members of the household by recognized status is keen and nigh to killing. For this reason, it is used as part of the apparatus of probation, by which the man of God is trained to the robustness which, without losing the tenderness and the sweetness of the new man in his normal relations, can "endure hardness," and "contend earnestly" with the valour of "a good soldier of Christ Jesus."
The parable of the net was the last of the parables spoken by Jesus on this occasion, according to Matthew. After the parable of the leaven "Jesus sent the multitude away." He would draw to shore and land, and walk to the house where he made his stay in Capernaum, -- the multitude dispersing. In the house the disciples asked him to explain the parable of the tares, which he did, and then appears to have added the parables of the hid treasure, the goodly pearl, and the net -- after which he asked them if they understood. They said, "Yes." He then remarked that every man in that position -- that is, who was "instructed unto the Kingdom of Heaven" -- was like a well-stocked householder, able to bring forth out of his hoard "things new and old," as occasion might require. The object of this remark was evidently to signify that wealth of mental resource, in the statement and illustration of the truth, would be the characteristic of those who had the understanding he was referring to, as contrasted with the meagreness and nakedness of those who, not having made wisdom an object of search, had no stock of the article.
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