The Parables of the New Testament are here treated historically. It is insufficient to extract from each separately its own particular lesson or lessons. The public career of our Lord was marked by progress in both its events and His teaching. The instruction He imparted presents two governing features. First, He taught according to the capacity of the hearers. As they grasped the instruction further truth was unfolded. Second, as opposition developed in intensity so did His parables in force and solemnity.
Each parable therefore reflects the conditions which called it forth and is illuminated by the circumstances. In consequence they must be studied consecutively if the full sense and force of each is to be realized. This applies to the parables in the Epistles also.
The purpose of the parables was intensely practical: so is this exposition of them. What was then addressed to disciples is here applied to disciples, both comfort and reproof. The warnings are neither shirked nor softened, yet the truth of the everlasting security of the regenerate is firmly maintained.
The spiritually susceptible student will thus find his mind
and heart being led ever forward in the knowledge of the mind of God. The
By the favour of the Lord and the fellowship of His servants, this book is issued at considerably below its economic price, in order to make it more readily available to those who desire to obtain it.
G. H. LANG.
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ON SYMBOLICAL AND LITERAL LANGUAGE
To employ figurative speech is a native characteristic of the human mind. It is more marked in some minds than in others, and in some races than in others. The Oriental is very prone to it, the Westerner to-day less and less so, a result perhaps of the mechanical and mathematical habit of mind induced by modem industry and science. It is a regrettable loss, and especially it disables the Westerner from penetrating easily into the deeper and higher truths taught in the Bible, this Book being pre-eminently Oriental in style and tone, and beautiful by reason of its richness in figurative language. It is highly needful that the Western mind should immerse itself in the Bible manner of speech, and endeavour resolutely to form the habit of thinking pictorially. The Book of Proverbs greatly aids this and the book of the Revelation demands it, as does our present subject.
A statement may be strictly literal, yet may be made not at all to set out the literal fact stated, but because of some unmentioned fact or truth which corresponds to the one stated and which the reader is to discover by reflection (e.g. Eccles. 10: 8). Neither rigid literalism nor liberal spiritualizing conforms to the persistent feature of language to interweave the figurative and the literal.
Of this latter feature a converted Moslem gave a good example. He was interpreting into Arabic what I was saying to another Moslem. After the way of life had been made plain I asked him to say that now it was for the other to believe upon the Son of God and be saved or to reject Him and be lost. There was no alternative. We were at the top of a four-storey dwelling. He spoke for a few minutes and then he said to me: I have told him there are two ways of getting out of this house; he can go down the staircase or throw himself out of the window: it must be one or the other. His statement was literal as to fact, figurative in sense.
Ecclesiastes 10: 8 is a good Old Testament example: Whoso
breaketh through a fence a serpent shall bite him. In hot and sandy places in the East this is so
well known that the wise man could scarcely need to state it. Tell not as new what
everybody knows. He must have
mentioned it for the sake of some un-stated lesson; that is, the statement is literal,
but there being a hidden lesson it is figurative in sense. Thou shalt not eat of it was a fence around the tree in
It is also to be observed that the figure hyperbole (over-statement) is used to emphasize an idea.
No rigid uniform rule can be laid down to govern interpretation. Doubtless it is safer to incline rather to a literal than to a figurative sense, but always with the large reserve and latitude that human speech is a blend of direct and symbolic language. And for the right comprehension of Holy Scripture the devout have the special advantage of the [Holy] Spirit, Who inspired the Book, being with them to open the mind to its meaning; yet ever remembering that the thoughts of His infinite mind were caused to pass through human minds and to find expression in modes of utterance native to that vehicle.*
* The above is abridged from Preliminary Dissertation I of my treatise The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
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MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM
Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8: 4-15.
It signifies much that at this juncture Jesus addresses the Father as Lord of heaven and earth (Matt. 11: 25).* The Son was in this world to reassert the sovereign rights of God. Those rights had been denied, by angels in heaven, by angels and men on earth. Christ maintained those rights, in the first place by doing as man the whole will of God. Then as Teacher He called others to repent of their sin in not having lived as loyal subjects of the Lord of heaven and earth, and He taught them that, through His coming and atoning death, sin could be forgiven and they themselves receive from the God they had defied the free gift of a share in His eternal life, the life that is the animating energy of His eternal kingdom (John 3: 14-16; 6: 40, 51-58; 10: 10-18, 27, 28; 12: 32; Matt. 26: 28).
* The title Lord is frequently applied to the Father. By Christ (Matt. 4: 7, 10; 9: 38; 11: 25; Luke 4: 18, 19); by men (Acts 4: 26; 17: 24; 2 Cor. 6: 18; 1 Tim. 1: 14); by heavenly beings (Rev. 4: 8, 11; 11: 15, 17; 15: 3, 4; 16: 7; 19: 6; 21: 21).
The holy angels act by the impulse of a divine principle and energy, the doing of the will of God (Ps. 103: 20); and when in due time this will shall prevail on earth as it does in heaven then will Gods kingdom have come fully to this earth.*
[* NOTE. Bold type and underlining is not found in the authors writings. I have used these means to emphasise, what I believe, are very important scriptural truths. - Ed.]
In the meanwhile, during the present age, those who thus repent and are born of God are rescued out of the sphere of authority of darkness, and are translated into the kingdom of the Son of Gods love (Col. 1: 13). Thus they are rescued from the Evil One (Matt. 6: 13), who keeps his subjects in the dark about all things divine and eternal, and they are become subjects in the kingdom of light, where God imparts knowledge of the great realities of heaven and earth, of time and eternity.
This aspect of matters Christ will open up later by explaining
that He is the light; and now, at the crisis and juncture reached, He will
diffuse light by outlining the phases through which the
It is to be observed that the theme is the kingdom, not the church, even though the parables cover the age during which [obedient members
of] the church is being called out.* The church is a palace
- temple for the dwelling of God (Eph. 2: 20-22), a city to be the capital of His kingdom, a bride to be the wife of the Lamb (Rev. 21: 9, 10); but a
palace or a city or a queen is not the whole kingdom, but only a small part of
it, even though the most honourable part.
It is the widest present aspect of the kingdom on earth that is set
forth here; phases that will accompany the demand of the gospel that men shall render to God the honour due to Him as the
Sovereign, the Lord of heaven and earth.
The various responses to that message are depicted. The vast masses of mankind who would never
hear the message are not part of the picture, not having come under the
influence of the
[* Acts 5: 32; Rev. 19: 7, 8. cf. Matt 7: 21; Phil. 3: 11; Rev. 2: 26, 27; 3: 21, 22; Lk. 20: 35.]
It is necessary to observe three general features of the parables by which this instruction is given.
First, the comparison of the kingdom of heaven is not to any one or other of the details of the picture drawn but to the whole picture. It is not the sower, or the seed, or the soil separately that forms the comparison, but all in combination. The kingdom of heaven is not likened to the leaven, or the woman, or the meal separately but to the combined action of the three.
Second, that the first parable is given by the Lord as a picture of His own activity as a Teacher, so that the series commences at the time of Christ. But the final parable is of the judgment that will close this [evil] era at the consummation of the age (Matt. 13: 49). Evidently therefore the parables cover the whole age.
Third, that once any given phase has set in it will persist
until the age closes, so that at the consummation the
The First Parable: THE SOWER
Matt. 13: 3-9, 18-23; Mark 4: 2-20; Luke 8: 4-8
In the first place the kingdom will be as when a sower goes forth to sow.
1. The Sower (Matt.
13: 37) is the Son of man. The particular aspect of the
[* NOTE. There will be no lasting peace throughout this earth until the Prince of peace returns to establish his Messianic Kingdom here.]
Be the preacher never so active he will labour in vain unless he can say with Paul Christ speaketh in me (2 Cor. 13: 3); for that which Christ said is true of necessity in the kingdom of God, apart from Me ye can do nothing (John 15: 5). Therefore must we, by the obedience of love, abide in heart fellowship with Him, or we shall labour to no eternal purpose, even should we seem to influence thousands. In all times and all places the Son of man is the true Sower.
2. The Sowing. The field is the heart of man, so the seed is to be cast everywhere: Go ye, therefore, and make disciples [from among] all nations (Matt. 28: 19).
Our work is the sowing of seed: the imparting of [divine] knowledge, that is, the facts concerning God, His Son, His kingdom, so instilling truth into the mind of man. Only such means as secure this end are legitimate or suitable. The grace of God hath appeared ... instructing us (Titus 2: 11, 12). The overseer of a church must be apt to teach (1 Tim. 3: 2). If I do not get some item of divine knowledge into the mind of the other I have done nothing worth while. But the planting of the tiniest seed of truth may result in eternal fruit. Paul regarded his whole ministry as a sowing of spiritual things (1 Cor. 9: 11). The wise preacher will himself ponder his message so as to understand it, and he will seek for acceptance suitable words by which to make the message clear (Eccl. 12: 9, 10).
3. The Seed is the word of God (Luke 8: 11), the message about the kingdom
19, [N.I.V.]). All too many preachers limit themselves to that part of the message
which announces the forgiveness of sins and the new birth. Others
get little further than the inculcating of moral duties. But John preached the kingdom, so did Jesus, so did Paul. For Paul, to testify the grace of God was equivalent to preaching the
kingdom (Acts 20: 24, 25).
Luke summarizes the apostles ministry of two years in
[* NOTE. We have the word of prophecy, made more sure, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Pet. 1: 19). Our steadfastness in an unstable age, depends on this. Our preservation from stumbling depends on this. Our proper insight into the real condition of the world and the church depends on this: for we cannot rightly read the signs of the times without this. We are sure to call good evil, and evil good without this and we are sure to go wrong in our plans of Christian work whether at home or abroad without this. The light of prophecy enables us to see afar off. It makes us keen-sighted to all that is around us, enabling us to look under the surface of events and discern their real meaning and bearing and results.]
As far as worldly wisdom is mixed with this divine message the latter is nullified. Paul was well educated, but in a city of culture such as Corinth he determined to seem to be an ignoramus (the Latin equivalent of the Greek word he used, agnostic), as if acquainted with only one subject, Jesus Christ, and Him in the aspect most calculated to offend the refined, namely, as crucified, which meant as one executed as a criminal. But he knew that his message was good seed, which, sown in hearts by the Spirit of truth, could bring forth a new life in even the most sinful of men (1 Cor. 6: 9-11).
Peter knew that believers have been begotten again, not corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth (1 Pet. 1: 22-25). The statement that the word of God is seed is not so much figurative as literal. We speak justly of seed thoughts. Perhaps most can remember when some foul remark proved to be evil seed that duly brought forth in our heart a bitter crop of vile ideas, pictures, and ways. Take heed what ye hear (Mark 4: 24).
Equally so, good words are good seed, and Gods words pre-eminently so, for they are full of life, and abiding life. Natural seeds may decay and lose vitality and their power to grow. Human words may become inert. No moral reformation in sinners, no radically new life in the spirit, is effected by quoting Shakespeare or Goethe, unless it be statements of truth that such may have learned from Scripture; but the word of God is inherently living, has perpetual vital energy to grow. It is not only that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that it is so inspired, and, under proper conditions, will produce Divine life in the hearer, as it is continually doing. Many of us are eternally indebted to God that our parents sowed in our minds this imperishable seed from our earliest years. Such sowing may be done by the simplest individual privately, as well as by the noblest preacher in public.
4. The Soil. The message will meet with four kinds of hearers: the impervious, the shallow, the choked, and the fruitful soil.
(1) The Impervious. The sower of the word finds hearts that seem beyond impression, impenetrable. The path that skirts or crosses the field is trodden hard by the coming and going of passers-by. The ceaseless contacts and affairs of daily life tend to render the heart insensible to things unseen, and it is unaffected by the truths of the gospel [of the kingdom].
Also the deceitfulness of sin
indulged hardens the soul (Heb. 3: 13), so that
it becomes unbelieving and disobedient and the word becomes
unprofitable. The Christian is warned
against this subtle danger, for this state is possible to the redeemed, such
being addressed as brethren in Heb. 3: 1-4, 12, the passage cited. These imperil
thus their prospects in the
In such an impervious state of heart the word heard lies only on the surface of the mind. It is not pondered by the intellect nor are the emotions stirred. Through sheer inattention the meaning of the message is not grasped. Even Christians can remain ignorant in things divine. It is a law of our mind that what is not understood is readily forgotten, but in things spiritual there is an agency to accelerate and assure this; When any one heareth and understandeth not, then cometh the Evil One, and snatcheth away that which was sown in the heart (Matt. 13: 19). The Devil is not anxious to remove from our minds secular knowledge. Rather does he foster over-occupation with things earthly; they can be thorns to choke the word; but he is eager and watchful to remove immediately every remembrance of things heavenly.
Satan personally is not omnipresent and does not act in more
than one place at a time; but he has countless hosts of spirit servants who
co-operate in his fell efforts. So the
Lord says then cometh Satan. The usage is as when
This is the Divine explanation of the utter indifference of sinners or [regenerate] believers to [responsibility] truth heard. No more impression has been made by the word [of the kingdom] than is made by seed on hard-trodden ground.
It is to be noted that the birds of the heaven represent wicked spirits. These devoured the seed. This illustrates that not every detail of a parable is to be pressed to a fixed meaning. An evil spirit does not swallow and destroy the word of God itself; but he can remove it from the mind of the hearer. Here arises the vast importance that the preacher, having himself first understood the message, shall present it so lucidly that the hearer may understand it. Of C. G. Finney one said: He does not preach; he explains what other people preach; and his ministry was most fruitful.
(2) The second class of hearer is the shallow. These have not yet become hardened and unconcerned. They recognise the value of religion and they hear the word gladly. Their sentiments are stirred, their emotions excited; they promptly profess belief and acceptance. But this is merely superficial. Just beneath the surface their nature is as a shelf of rock, harder even than the trodden path. No roots can penetrate, no moisture can be held. Such growth as the seed can make must needs be upward. Such influence as the message can exert is seen quickly, but there is no grip of the truth upon the judgment, the affections, or the will. The dew of the Spirit is not held, the water of life does not sink in; and the first breath of the hot sun of persecution withers the early promise, and the grass and its flower perish.
The vital energy of truth produced some impression, but could not sink and root and work deeply enough for the impression to survive. It is to be feared that the forcing methods of much modem evangelizing have but fostered this surface and shallow work in large numbers who have soon lapsed. There has been too much desire that the results should spring up straightway; quick results that can be counted and tabulated.
(3) The Thorny Ground. The eldest son of a money-loving head of a great business was converted when a young man. I remember him. He had soon to choose between pleasing his Lord or his father. Thus the thorns were in the soil when the seed was sown and germinated; the cares of this age and the deceitfulness of riches were already at hand. He fell in with his fathers wishes, devoted himself fully to business, rose to be the head of the concern, and when well on in life had to acknowledge that he had neglected things heavenly. He was about to retire and he expressed his intention to be more diligent in matters spiritual. But God is not to be mocked. The man retired and died suddenly in only a few months. He left £90,000 and a spiritually wasted life. The thorns had choked the word and it was unfruitful.
It can be equally so with the poor. Care of mind can be induced by having too
much or not enough of earthly goods. In
either case the heart can be like land choked with weeds. Observe the nature of our Lords comparison:
things not wrong in themselves can be thorns.
As they say in
A Christian was on the box-seat of an old-time horse bus. He asked the driver if he loved God. Oh, I aint got no time for those things, mister. Are you married? Yes. Im very sorry for your wife. Why, whats the matter wi er? Im sorry you have no time to love her. Why, I loves her every yard I drives.
Thus was shown the hollowness of the excuse, but also the reality and strength of the thorns; the mind crowded with so many matters that there is no time for God.
Let the Christian also take warning: it was one whom the Lord loved and who truly loved Him that was cumbered about with much serving ... anxious and troubled about many things, and this as part of her supposed service to Christ Himself and to His friends (Luke 10: 40, 41). In such believers thorns may choke the good seed, and the life, over-busy with service, be unfruitful. It will certainly be this unless adequate time be taken to withdraw from outward activity and sit at His feet and hear His word.
In the first case pictured, the wayside, the seed found no lodgement and no life developed. In the second case there were signs of life, but this was from the energy of the seed alone, and it did not secure the co-operation of the soil by becoming rooted. In the third instance there was real growth, but this did not develop fully. Lukes account displays this feature: They bring no fruit unto perfection (Luke 8: 14). This warrants, indeed demands, that the warning be applied to those in whom the new birth is a fact, but growth is hindered and the newly-born man does not grow on unto maturity and usefulness.
(4) The Good Soil is described as an honest and good heart (Luke 8: 15). The former word means fair to look at, as a farmer may say, Thats a nice field. Good refers to the essential qualities of the soil which make it rich and productive.
Inasmuch as all men are equally dead in sin what causes the difference in some hearers of the word? How do they come to be responsive and productive? The Teacher did not explain this, but took the fact for granted. Yet His hearers knew well, what did not need to be mentioned, that the farmer does not cast the seed until the ground has been prepared by the plough and the rain. Many a hard heart has been broken to pieces by trouble or sorrow, and then softened by the kindness of God, so as thus to be made ready for the message of life.
A thorough worldling was plunged into bereavement and bitter sorrow, of which he said to me that it taught me what an insect I am, and that the world can give a man nothing when he needs it most. Brought thus to an end of himself and of men, convicted of nothingness and sinfulness, he became good soil.
Such ground has distinct characteristics which the Lord specified. (i) The word is heard with attention. (ii) It is understood: the mind thinks it over and so receives illumination by the ever-watchful, ever-gradous Spirit of truth. (iii) It accepts the message: embraces it as true, reliable, trustworthy. (iv) It holds it fast, being determined not to hear in vain. It relaxes its grasp upon the things of time and sense, and grips tenaciously the things of the kingdom that are heavenly and eternal. (v) Therefore it brings forth fruit with steadfastness.
(5) The Fruit is described in Galatians 5: 22,
23: The fruit of
the spirit [the new nature
begotten by the new birth] is love,
joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness,
These features characterize the kingdom of heaven, as it is written, the
The first type of hearer, the utterly unresponsive, is illustrated by the Pharisees and lawyers as a whole. With the exception of such as Nicodemus they totally rejected for themselves the counsel of God (Luke 7: 30).
The shallow hearers remind of those who for a time espoused Christ but when His teaching became deep and exacting they went back and walked no more with Him (John 6: 66).
The ground chocked with thrones is seen in the young ruler who had heard enough to desire to learn more as to how to obtain eternal life, but for whom the Lords demands were too severe. He went away, sorrowful it is true; but he went away, for he had great possessions (Matt. 19: 22).
The good and fruitful ground represented fishermen of Galilee, harlots and rogues, with a very few of the upper classes, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and all others who turned from sin and brought forth with patience the fruits of righteousness.
Later, in the days of the apostles, the rulers still proved impervious; the believers addressed in Hebrews had received the word with joy, but were in danger of withering under persecution: Demas was choked by love of this present age (2 Tim. 4: 10); while the Thessalonians endured persecutions and afflictions with patience.
Of the still future period, the end of this age, the Revelation speaks of the hardened who, even under the fierce judgment of God, blaspheme His name (16: 9, 11); of shallow Christians in Sardis who had a name to live but were dead (3: 1); of Laodiceans choked with riches (3: 17); but also of such as walked in holiness (3: 4), kept the word of Christs patience (3: 10), and endured tribulation and poverty (2: 9).
Thus these four conditions have been found all through this age and will exist to its end. The Lord of the harvest is to be praised that, though so much soil is unfruitful, and so much labour unproductive, yet there is much good soil, and that in all the world the word of God is bearing fruit and increasing (Col. 1: 6). Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15: 58). The Sower will gather His harvest, and it will be larger than the firstfruits now gleaned.
The Second Parable: THE TARES; and the Third Parable
Matt. 13: 24-30, 36-43; Mark 4: 4: 26-29
The second lesson as to the
1. The Field. In that former parable the soil was the heart of the individual hearer, in this the field is the world. Not, as in many places, the whole of mankind regarded as an organized system of life, with Satan as its Prince and organizer, but the world as meaning the earth, as in Ps. 24: 1: The earth is Jehovahs, and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. Here the world is distinguished from its inhabitants, and is the same as the earth. Thus in the parable also, the seed sown in the field being men, the field is the earth on which they dwell.
This field is a proper possession of God, part of His universal estate or kingdom, for as the psalm quoted adds, He hath founded and established it. The Son of man is the man that sowed His field, as in the parable. The subject of both parables is an activity of God in the affairs of His kingdom.
Since this owner had servants it is a fair presumption that actually they sowed the field for him. Certainly God uses His servants in this work, because the sons of the kingdom become such by the work of the former parable, the sowing of the word of God [or, the word of the kingdom] in the hearts of men, and this is done by His servants. But even so it is realistic and healthful for these servants to recognize the Lord as the proper Sower: Sir, didst Thou not sow good seed in Thy field?, not, Didst not Thou give us good seed to sow? That was fact as to the former parable; but now it is a matter of placing persons in Gods kingdom and this is distinctly His own work.
2. The Seed. In the first parable the seed was the word, the message, concerning the kingdom; here those who accept the message become themselves seed from which further fruit shall grow. In order to spread the message the Lord scatters His people over the earth as He pleases. Happy is the believer who is ready for this to be his experience, ready to be placed here, then to be moved there, to have life arranged and rearranged by God for the purpose of His kingdom. Then the seeming disturbances of affairs are seen as the ordering of God and the sting and strain of them is gone.
For His own great purposes the Lord thus overrules even the
wrath of man, making it to serve His own ends and praise. Saul of Tarsus, blaspheming and murderous,
causes a scattering abroad of the flourishing church at
3. The Darnel. The main lesson of the parable is that there was found among the wheat a weed; and not merely a foreign plant but a noxious one, capable indeed of hindering the growth of the wheat, but also harmful if ground with the corn and eaten.
The chief characteristic of darnel is that until the ear stage is reached it is indistinguishable from wheat, so that not until fruit appears is its nature detected. This also represents persons, and to these Christ gives the fearful title sons of the evil one. They are related spiritually to the Devil as intimately as the sons of the kingdom are to God. Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Cor. 11: 13-15).
It is a fact well recognized in the pagan world that some men give themselves up so thoroughly to the service of sin and their god that they do literally receive into their spirit an infusion of the spirit of that god. These have not only the sinful nature and tendencies common to all Adams children, but they become demonized, with diabolical subtlety, spirit-energy, and wickedness.
It is to securing this accession of spirit-energy that the mystery rites of initiation are directed. This obtains alike in the world of degraded savages and that of cultured paganism. It is possible that the climax of the initiatory ceremonies of the ancient Mysteries was a sight of Satan and becoming possessed by him. To this day the Brahmin of India, having passed through initiation, is styled the twice born. Such of the sons of the kingdom who, as faithful messengers of Christ, have had close contact with them have felt that they are indeed sons of the Evil One. It has been my own experience. Such are to be met also among Moslems, apostate Jews, and also various other cults falsely known as Christian. Such sons of the Evil One were to be found among even those Jews who were inwardly convinced of the truth of Christs teaching. He had to tell them plainly that they were of their father, the Devil, the proof being that in their hearts they were ready to murder Him, the Sent of God (John 8: 37-44).
In this parable the Lord warned that Satan would introduce such as these into any sphere where He placed sons of the kingdom, and that their characteristic would be that outwardly they would be so like the latter that for some time they could not be distinguished.
This had been so in measure in the history of
In due time Christ had now commenced a new testimony designed to re-establish the witness to the true God (comp. 1 Thess. 1: 9: ye turned unto God from idols to serve a living and true God), and to extend His kingdom among all nations; and He intimates at once that the same destructive measure had been commenced by His Enemy, the Devil. He said: The kingdom of heaven had already become like (bomoiothe, aor. pass). He had before warned His followers to beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheeps clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matt. 7: 15). For years Judas* passed as a faithful apostle and could not be distinguished by human observation, not even by his fellow-apostles (John 13: 28, 29). But at last Satan put it into his heart to betray his Teacher and then entered into him personally to see that the deed was done (John 13: 2, 27).
was a Regenerate Believer by
Instructed thus by the Lord His first servants went forth expecting that this feature would mark the progress of the kingdom of God: I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20: 29, 30). But naturally these did not present themselves at the door of the fold howling like the wolf for its prey, or they would have found the door barred; they came in sheeps clothing, as Christ had said. And those among the very elders themselves who had led the sheep astray must for long have seemed to be true pastors or they would not have been acknowledged as elders.
Later Paul warns Timothy against Hymenxus and Philetus as men who concerning the truth have missed the mark, saying that resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some (2 Tim. 2: 17, 18); and he proceeds to assure him that grievous times will come, one feature of which will be that such men will withstand the truth even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses ... men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith (2 Tim. 3: 8).
Peter was equally emphatic in warning against such hypocritical professors: But there arose false prophets also amongst the people [Israel], as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies [sects that lead to perdition], denying even the Master [Despot] that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction (2 Pet. 2: 1): not speedy destruction, for they may be tolerated by God so as to test the faithful (comp. Deut. 13: 3; 1 Cor. 11: 19); but a destruction that falls swiftly and is overwhelming.
John also warned the children of God that many false prophets are gone out into the world, that many antichrists had arisen, forerunners of the Antichrist that cometh; and that the test of these is that they deny the Father and the Son and that Jesus is the Messiah come in flesh: that is (1) they assert that God is not Father and Son, and (2) that therefore the Son of God did not assume true human nature, and therefore (3) He did not die as the propitiation for the sins of the world. And (4) they decline to accept the apostolic testimony as true (1 John 2: 18-23; 4: 1-6).
Jude wrote to the same effect. He exhorted the called of God to contend earnestly for the faith deposited with the saints on trust, for there are certain men crept in privily ... ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness and denying our only Despot and Lord, Jesus Christ (vers. 3, 4).
From His place in heaven, yet as also in the midst of the
churches, the risen Lord repeated His warnings given when here. In
And as the mighty drama of the End Times of this age unfolds in the Revelation, the time is reached when the False Prophet deceives all men into worshipping the Antichrist (ch. 13). At the close of his career, from the Dragon, the Beast (Antichrist), and the False Prophet demonic spirits go forth to complete the deception of those who had rejected the truth, so that they shall madly hurl themselves upon Jehovahs buckler and be destroyed by the Word of God at His descent to this earth (16: 13, 14; 19: 11-21).
Then shall the kingdom of darkness be
suppressed on earth and the
The features of the sons of the Evil One, as given in these few apostolic statements, are to be noted.
Their twofold object. The injury of the flock: the winning to themselves a following. They are wolfish and selfish. The word grievous which Paul employs was used by the Lord in connexion with the wolves of His day, the scribes and the Pharisees (Matt. 23: 4). They bound on mens shoulders burdens grievous to be borne. Souls were weighted with human regulations, to their deep inward injury, by being kept from the liberty of the spirit Godward which Christ came to assure.
And by attaching disciples to themselves they caused sects and schisms among the people of God, so that the flock was divided and scattered.
All priest-ridden systems, including those called Christian, show these features. The way of life is turned to a way of death. The free grace brought in Christ to the guilty, is banished by a scheme of rules burdensome and hurtful.
(2) Others of these false teachers tamper with the truth of resurrection and overthrow the faith of some. 1 Cor. 15 shows that by resurrection Paul meant the resurrection of the body [together with the disembodied soul from Hades the underworld of the dead, (Acts. 2: 27, 31; Matt. 16: 18)], and that without such resurrection there is no Christian faith and no salvation. Matthew understood the word to refer to the body: Many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised (Matt. 27: 52, 53). Those false teachers Paul named said resurrection is past already. As no resurrection of saints in their bodies had taken place since Christ was raised this must presumably have meant what some now call a spiritual resurrection, that is, a transfer of the [animating] spirit being of man to some better state and place. But, according to Paul, no such resurrection is known, and those not raised in body have no salvation. And if resurrection had already taken place, whatever its nature, those not raised, being still alive, could not expect resurrection or salvation. This was the true faith and hope of the gospel overthrown.
As this was the case with the assertion in question regarding the resurrection of believers, how much more anti-Christian it is to deny that the body of Christ ever rose. Thus does a living preacher, a professed minister of Christ, write:
The physical body of Jesus was subjected to a process of speedy dematerialization or evanescence ... I do not believe that the physical particles of Christs body ever came out of the tomb; there was an evanescence, perhaps the speeding up of those processes which dispose of the physical matter of our own bodies.
Obviously this involves the notion of a merely spiritual resurrection, which is what spiritists and theosophists allege. But this is no resurrection at all, according to the Word of God. For in that case the Holy One of God did see corruption, and more speedily than the rest of men. Of necessity this involves a denial of the bodily ascension of the Lord, and so the same writer adds: the very idea seems crude and absurd.*
This fatal error is necessarily involved in the basic falsity of Christian Science also, that matter is not real; for what does not exist cannot be raised from the dead and be glorified at the right hand of God.
* Leske D. Weatherhead, His Life and Ours, 303, 307, 326, 327.
(3) The deceivers in view in the passages of Scripture quoted deny, tacitly or avowedly, the true nature of God. They deny the Father and the Son, that is, that these relationships exist between these two Persons in the one Godhead.
Swedenborg denied this distinction of Persons and this relationship in God, and therefore that the Son was sent by the Father and became man.*
* The True Christian Religion, 43, 142 (33).
Russellism (Jehovahs Witnesses) denies the eternal Sonship, asserting that before He became man Jesus was of only angelic rank.
Christadelphianism denies the eternal existence of the Son of God: there must therefore have been a time when the Father existed but the Son did not (Who is the God of the Bible? p. 3).
(4) A person who has not a child is not a father. Hence to deny that God has a Son is to deny that He is a Father. It is the folly and confusion of Unitarian thought that God is styled Father though not having an only-begotten Son, of His own eternal nature.
They come perilously near to this error - little as they may suspect it - who question if this relationship of Son to Father existed in the Godhead before Christs incarnation. For in that case there has come by the incarnation an essential change in the Godhead, whereas in His essence God is not susceptible of change.
(5) But in the denial of the true deity of the Son of God, and regarding Him as only a superior and exalted angel or man, there is of necessity the denial that Jesus Christ is our only Despot and Lord, as Peter and Jude describe Him. The absolute sovereignty of the Son of God is set aside by all teaching that limits His person to something less than deity or that exalts humanity in general to His level. Such teaching is essentially pagan, not Christian. As Paul showed to a group of former pagans, then Christians, there are gods many and lords many in heathendom, but for Christians there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, and He is the Creator through Whom are all things (1 Cor. 8: 5, 6).
(6) This degradation of the Son of God involves a setting aside of His atoning, redeeming death. For one aspect of that death was that He "bought" us, and so doubled His proprietary right as Creator by the right of redemption. These rights these errorists refuse to acknowledge, thus maintaining their rebellion against the Father Who conferred them on the Son by giving all things into His hand (John 3: 35; 13: 3). This last is not a mere assertion of His follower John, for the latter had heard the Son Himself declare that all things have been delivered unto Me by My Father (Matt. 11: 27).
(7) The conflict between the teachers of these false views and the writers of the New Testament is so complete and irreconcilable that the former are compelled to reject the latter as being merely recorders of their own impressions and opinions. Naturally they refuse to admit such a claim as that made by Paul, that the things which I write unto you are the commandment of the Lord (1 Cor. 14: 37). They therefore involve themselves in the sharp and terrible condemnation of John, when writing concerning the spirit of antichrist already in the world: We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4: 1-6).
(8) The Lord emphasized the conscious deceitfulness of such men: sheeps clothing donned by the ravenous wolf (Matt. 7: 15). They creep in privily and privily introduce their destructive doctrines, say Jude and Peter. The Jesuits may profess to be what they will if thereby the interests of their order and Church can be promoted. Modernists who deny everything Christian can be ministers and Professors of Divinity, taking salaries from evangelical sources though denying all evangelical doctrine. They may get their positions by false pretences, and then hold on to them, so as to continue to ravage the flock of God. They employ terms and phrases which for centuries have had a recognized and settled meaning, but they use them dishonestly and subtly to instil false ideas. Thus they first undermine and then overthrow the faith of many.
It is the same subtlety with which J. H. Newman sought in Tract XC to show that an avowedly Reformed document, the Book of Common Prayer, could be read in a thoroughly Romish sense.
Often brilliant in scholarship, pleasant in manners, suave of speech, they are darnel that seems like wheat. And usually they have done their deadly work before it can be recognized by the many.
In the early Christian centuries the Gnostics fulfilled all
these conditions. Outwardly they
appeared to be vanquished by the orthodox Christians and their sects died
out. Actually their errors had taken
deep root and have persisted and revived ever since. In the same way Swedenborg faded from view.
The fruit has been abundant and rank. At the beginning of this century R. J.
Campbell was pouring forth his miscalled New Theology. It was not new. He confessed later that its essence was drawn
from the ancient Greek philosophers and that they had derived it from the still
older Hindu sages. In 1903, while he was
still preaching at
(9) The religious phenomenon now in view is stupendous. In all periods, and in all countries, whenever God has planted sons of His kingdom, before long there have been commingled with them these sons of the Evil One, not at first to be distinguished. The feature is universal and unceasing, evidencing design and skill, as did the work of the sower of darnel. The only possible explanation is that given by Christ: the enemy that sowed them is the Devil (Matt. 13: 59). The continuance of the sowing the long centuries through demands a sower who neither dies nor sleeps.
As the Sower of the good seed was a person, the Son of man, so is the sower of the darnel a person, the Devil. Yet one of the wiles of his sons is to deny personality to their spiritual father.
His object has been to hinder the sons of the kingdom from bearing fruit unto God. The Gnostics aimed at a compound of religions and philosophies; Christianity was to be included, but only so that it could be corrupted; for when salt combines with corruption it loses its saltness and is the most worthless of all substances, not being useful on even a dunghill (Matt. 5: 13; Mark 9: 50; Luke 14: 34, 35).
Fifty years ago Dr. Timothy Richards of China proposed that the best elements should be taken from the religions of China and from Christianity, the poorer elements of all religions being dropped, and from this melting pot there was to come forth a religion which all could accept, and thus thousands of Chinese could be gained, instead of ones and twos. The Communists to-day know better the true essential nature of the Christian faith and that it cannot be fused with any non-Christian philosophy or religion.
Parliaments of Religion and World Councils of Churches aim at
similar fusion, or confusion, and serve the same destructive ends. On the Indian Ocean I conversed with a Hindu
pundit on his way to such a Parliament at
Of late years the English-speaking world has had a spate of private translations of the Bible by modernistic scholars, Moffat and the American Revised Standard Version being the two best known and, in our judgment, most injurious. Why have these many anti-fundamentalist men thought it worth while to deluge the church with these books? A probable subtle effect is to instil the feeling that the Scriptures are most indefinite as to both the original text and the meaning. Why did one of these men think proper to write of Peters barbarous Greek? Whether a modern Englishman knows Greek better than a man who lived with that language around him may be questioned; in any case the remark could not but suggest that Peter was not a spokesman of the Spirit of God.
Behind all such activity, whether recognized by men or not, the Lord exposes the activity of the Devil, setting his agents among the godly for the injury of the latter and to rob, as far as possible, the Householder, the Owner of the field, of something of His desired harvest. And this fell work he does by night (while men slept, which is not in itself a matter of reproach, nor did the householder blame his servants); that is, Satan acts invisibly and stealthily, which calls for the greater watchfulness in saints.
(10) The Situation is Unchangeable. The main stress of the parable is that no attempt to eradicate the darnel can succeed or is to be attempted. In nature the roots of the two plants so intertwine that to pull up the one would drag up the other. This does not mean that a local group of believers may not withdraw from fellowship with a known teacher of doctrines that cause sects; for a man that makes factions is to be refused fellowship (Titus 3: 10), and from such as maintain a form of godliness but deny its power, the son of the kingdom is to turn away (2 Tim. 3: 5).
But while such local and individual action is to be taken against a known individual there is to be no general attempt to eradicate the darnel, nor would it succeed. Let both grow together until the harvest at the consummation of the age (Matt. 13: 30, 39).
At this point the utmost attention is demanded. Until the time of harvest shall have come the good and the bad will stand on earth side by side, and in the harvest alone will they be separated. This is our Lords direct refutation of the wholly false notion that the sons of the kingdom will go on multiplying until they only are found on earth and then the Lord will enter into His kingdom. To uphold that idea the parable of the tares must be wholly rejected for it cannot be accommodated thereto.
Let both grow together until the harvest. Pregnant words, which tell us that evil is not, as so many dream, gradually to wane and disappear before good, the world to find itself in the Church, but each to unfold itself more fully, out of its own root, after its own kind: till at last they stand face to face, each in its highest manifestation, in the persons of Christ and of Antichrist; on the one hand, an incarnate God, on the other, the man in whom the fulness of all Satanic power will dwell bodily. Both are to grow until the harvest, till they are ripe, one for destruction, and the other for full salvation (Trench, Parables, 99).
The parable also forbids the notion of some good men that the
Christian sphere at its commencement was everywhere marked by pristine beauty
and unity, which by gradual decay fell into ruin. The Enemy did not so long delay his attack. Already among the apostolic twelve he used
Peter to put a stumbling-block before Christ (Matt. 16: 23),
and later he found in Judas his traitorous agent. In only the second Christian church Simon
Magus appeared (Acts 8: 18-24). Paul
had scarcely left
4. The Harvest. (1) Its Time. There is a definite season for harvest: in the season (kairos) of harvest (Matt. 13: 30). For harvest is the completion of a process, the climax of growth.
The Third Parable: SPONTANEOUS GROWTH
Mark 4: 26-29
Mark inserts here a cognate parable not included by Matthew. It reads:
And He said, So is the
(a) That the affairs
(b) Growth is a process and takes time: blade, ear, and full grain.
(c) Harvest is determined by ripeness, not by calendar or clock: when the fruit permits, straightway he sends forth the sickle, because the harvest has come (permits points to a definite season and action; paradoi aor. subj.).
Thus Gods judgments are at proper seasons, which, though in His foreknowledge known and controlled by Him, are not determined by the calendar as are human assizes, but by the moral consideration of ripeness of character and ways. The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full (Gen. 15: 16), and therefore full judgment on them was delayed for 400 years. This gave opportunity for repentance in humble hearts (2 Pet. 3: 9).
Returning to Matthew and the Second Parable, the season of harvest is the Consummation of the Age (Matt. 13: 39, 40, 49). The disciples took up this expression on Olivet and asked the Lord, What shall be the sign of Thy parousia and consummation of the age? (Matt. 24: 3). This question drew from Christ that further prophetic discourse. He used the term once again in the heartening assurance to His witnesses. Lo, I am with you all the days until the consummation of the age.*
* Telos is simply an end, conclusion. According to Trench sunteleia is a point of conjunction between the end of one age and the commencement of another age (Parables 103, note 2) But I do not find support for this. The term seems to point to various matters coming to an end together.
The term is part of the larger conception of the ages of time. The finite mind is of limited power and cannot grasp the fact of infinite duration. This is as true of angels as of men, though they being of greater power than man may be able to conceive of greater stretches of time than we can grasp as yet. Therefore as soon as finite beings were created time began, that is, eternity was divided into successive periods such as the finite mind can conceive. It follows from this that time can never cease, because the created mind can never become infinite and able to conceive of eternity. Rev. 10: 6 says There shall be delay no longer (R.V.).
These ages were of course foreseen by God with all the changes they would involve in the principles and developments of His ways with creation. A few passages are of first importance.
i. 1 Tim. 1: 17. God is the King of the ages. Sin has brought fearful havoc in the course and working of these vast periods. How far back time began, or how many and extended ages preceded Adam we do not know. Those pre-Adamic periods can have been long enough for the immense eras that geologists imagine. But sin and its dire results are not triumphant and uncontrolled: they are under the sovereign mastery of the King of the ages.
ii. Hebrews 1: 2 informs us that the creative activity of God was effected through the agency of the Son: through Whom also He [the Father] made the ages. This included the material structure of the universe, its living beings, and the course of the ages. So that the Son is the actual Ruler of all that has developed or will develop during the ages, and is therefore the judge at all its judicial crises.
iii. Heb. 9: 26 is the one further passage where the term before us is found. It tells us that now, once, at the consummation of the ages hath He [the Son of God] been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. This perfected work can never be repeated.
iv. Eph. 3: 10, 11 shows that there is a divine purpose of the ages. This repels the false notion that, though there is a Creator, yet He put the universe in the grip of fixed laws, Himself retired into the background and never interferes with the outworking of those laws. On the contrary, He has a purpose running through all the ages and He ceaselessly overrules all events to the fulfilment of that purpose.
The particular part of that purpose in view in Eph. 3:
10, 11 has to do
with that society of redeemed persons being gathered in this age, known as the
The Harvest at that consummation covers two operations as it affects the wheat and the darnel.
A. The Wheat Harvest.
The Lord put this age in contrast to the next [millennial] age, and showed that the means by which the godly dead will attain to that age is resurrection (Luke 20: 34, 35). Now that first resurrection will be brought about by Himself descending from the throne of God to proximity to this earth (1 Thess. 4: 15-17). That event will synchronize with the consummation of this [evil] age, even as He said in the explanation of this parable of the tares, the Son of man shall send forth His angels (Matt. 13: 41). This will be His harvest-home of the godly and the harvest of judgment for the wicked.
He will say later on Olivet: They shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send forth His angels, with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His chosen from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24: 30, 31). The same event is pictured in Rev. 14: 14-16, under the same figure. An angel with a mighty voice calls to the One sitting on the cloud, Send forth Thy sickle [angels] and reap: for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is dried up, and therefore is ready for the gamer. Similarly, in the parable of the tares, the Householder said to the reapers, gather the wheat into My barn.
This service of holy angels will assure that no mistake is made
in distinguishing between wheat and darnel, and it will guarantee that no
resistance by the wicked shall thwart justice.
It was angels who destroyed
This harvest is not the judgment before the great white throne after the millennial kingdom and prior to the new heavens and earth. That final assize of the universe is to be held at a point of time where earth and heaven flee away, and it includes all the dead who had not been raised in the first resurrection (Rev. 20: 1 -15). This judgment of tares is of persons living on earth at the consummation of this age, not at the close of the following millennial age.
It will be well to observe here that all the parables of Christ concerning the end of this age regard persons living at the time when He returns and do not teach concerning the dead. Of course, the principles of justice are the same for both classes, but the details vary greatly. Confusion and mistake have arisen from attempting to apply the parables to the dead.
B. The Darnel Harvest.
This takes place in two stages: (a) the gathering of the weeds into bundles, and (b) the later casting of them into the fire.
The former operation is illustrated in Rev. 16: 14, 16: spirits of demons go forth unto the kings of the whole inhabited earth to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty ... and they gathered them together into the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon. But into the very midst of this gathering of the armies of the Beast the Lord interposes the announcement, Behold, I come as a thief. This therefore is the moment of the gathering of the wheat into the barn, for His coming as thief is applied to His own in Matt. 24: 42-44; Luke 12: 39; 2 Pet. 3: 10-12; 1 Thess. 5: 2; Rev. 3: 3.
It is not that the darnel is burned up immediately it is gathered together. The coming as a thief takes place during that process of gathering. Matt. 13: 30 coincides with this, for it reads: Gather up first the tares and bind them in bundles with a view to burning them (pros to katakausai auta). The picture used makes this clear. The whole field being ripe, wheat and darnel alike, it is easy to distinguish them, and no harm will now come to the wheat by separating them. But when the weeds have been all segregated and separately bound, no farmer would think of setting fire to them so long as the wheat was at hand on the field. The latter would be removed to safety and afterward the darnel would be burned.
This is important as showing the point in the consummation of the age when the wheat is removed to the heavenly garner: it is just before the destruction of the Lords enemies, while these are assembling to the final battle at Har-Magedon. This is further shown in Rev. 14: 14-20: for after the Son of man has gathered His harvest to the clouds (vers. 14-16) then follows the vintage of the earth and it being crushed in the winepress of the great wrath of God (vers. 18-20; ch. 19: 15; comp. Isa. 63: 1-6).
The Furnace of Fire. How fearful is the prospect of these sons of the Evil One! They share the doom of their father the Devil.
The setting forth of the terrible doom of ungodly men under the image of the burning with fire of thorns, briers, weeds, chaff, barren branches, dead trees is frequent in Scripture; thus see 2 Sam. 23: 6, 7; Matt. 3: 10-12; 7: 19; Isa. 66: 24; etc., etc. But dare we speak of it as an image merely? The fire reappears in the interpretation of the parable; the angels shall cast them, those, namely, which do iniquity into a furnace of fire. Fearful words indeed: and the image, if it be an image, at all events borrowed from the most dreadful and painful form of death in use among men. Something we read of it in Scripture. ... Whatever the furnace of fire may mean here, or the lake of fire (Rev. 19: 20; 20: 10). the fire that is not quenched (Mark 9: 48), the everlasting fire, (Matt. 25: 41; comp. Luke 16: 24; Mal. 4: 1), elsewhere, this at all events is certain; that they point to some doom so intolerable that the Son of God came down from heaven and tasted all the bitterness of death, that He might deliver us from ever knowing the secrets of anguish, which, unless God be mocking men with empty threats, are shut up in these terrible words: There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (comp. Matt. 22: 13; Luke 13: 28). (Trench, Parables, 104, 105)
The Reward of the Righteous.
How ravishing is the prospect of the sons of the kingdom! They share the glory of their Father: Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13: 43). God had called them through the gospel unto the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, yea, into His own kingdom and glory, that is, into the heavenly portion of the kingdom. They, on their part, had responded to the call and were suffering persecution at the hands of Gods Enemy (2 Thess. 2: 14; 1 Thess. 2: 12-14; 2 Thess. 1: 3-12). Or as Peter wrote to persecuted saints: The God of all grace called you unto His eternal glory in Christ. ... Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure (1 Pet. 5: 10; 2 Pet. 1: 1-11).
These sons of the kingdom have seen the Sun of righteousness in His glory and have become glorious (1 John 3: 2). Thus had it been promised five centuries before, and Christ repeated the promise. Speaking of that same period, the consummation of the age, which should bring a resurrection unto eternal life, the angel had said to Daniel that they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever (Dan. 12: 1-3).
It must be stressed that righteous here means those who have practised righteousness. To be sure they had first had judicial
righteousness in Christ put to their account, but in these passages practical righteousness is meant. The sons of the Evil One wrought
unrighteousness, the sons of the kingdom
wrought righteousness, and suffered somewhat for doing so. They received fulfilment of two Scriptures,
samples of many: through many tribulations we must enter into the
This parable is the basis of much later teaching, to the right understanding of which it is a key.
Parable Four: THE MUSTARD SEED
Matt. 13: 31, 32; Mark 4: 30-32; Luke 13: 18, 19
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds: but when it is grown, it is greater then than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Mark adds the descriptive clause and putteth out great branches. Matthew describes the soil as field, Mark as earth, Luke as his garden. This illustrates the features that differences in detail need not be pressed to yield different specific meanings; and also that differences may not be contradictions; for any soil is earth, and a garden may be a corner of a field. But field in Matthew accords with the preceding parable, the field is the world. The lesson is a further phase which the kingdom of heaven will display on earth.
On another occasion the Lord compared faith to a grain of mustard seed (Matt. 17: 20). The expression was in proverbial use, meaning anything extremely small.
Some learned expositors regard this parable as supporting the opinion that, though the church which Christ was founding was in its beginning small and insignificant, yet it had in it Divine energy of growth, and would develop until all mankind had been gathered into salvation under its shadow, as birds shelter in a tree. As warrant for this last detail they cite Dan. 4: 12 and Ezek. 31: 6. Thus Alford treats the parable as revealing
the inherent self‑developing power of the kingdom of heaven as a seed containing in itself the principle of expansion;
and he regards this as pointing to
the penetrating of the whole mass of humanity, by degrees, by the influence of the Spirit of God, so strikingly illustrated in the earlier ages by the dropping of heathen customs and worship: in modern times more gradually and secretly advancing, but still to be plainly seen in the various abandonments of criminal and unholy practices (as e.g. in our own time of slavery and duelling and the increasing abhorrence of war among Christian men), and without doubt in the end to be universally manifested.
That was the deceptive surface as seen by an eminent and sanguine Christian of the nineteenth century; but this twentieth century, with cruel blow on blow, has shattered the baseless fabric of the dream, and has shown that human nature, incited by wicked spirits, has not changed and can speedily revert from civilization to the vilest and cruellest days and ways of heathendom. Moreover, the proportion of non-Christians to Christians on earth is far vaster to-day than ever; and in those very Western areas where, a century ago, the gospel seemed to be widening its public influence, there has been a shocking recrudescence of war, violence, vice, and crime, perhaps surpassing in extent the worst periods of the ancient world. Any prospect of the kingdom of heaven reaching universal triumph by the slow and peaceful progress suggested above has been relegated to a future so remote that it is wholly negligible and wholly improbable, not to say wholly unscriptural.
The learned Dean mentions some general influences of the gospel in the first centuries and then passes to recent days; but naturally the thousand intervening years of the Dark Ages yielded him no ground for his view and hope; and now, after a brief period in which God caused the message to spread over the earth, He has permitted the present deluge of Satanic activity and is allowing His work to be greatly restricted over half the world and its population. This compels the question whether it was ever His design that His kingdom should conquer the earth in this age and by present means, or whether He must not have a quite different programme. In this case the meaning of this parable must be quite different from that given above and to be found in many other devout writers.
The theory advanced shows that the writers equate the
It is true that in warm climes the tiny mustard seed sometimes grows to the size of a fig tree into which a man may climb and in which birds may roost. But that is exceptional; normally its growth is that of a herb, and to become a tree is abnormal. The picture therefore intimates that the outward condition of those who nominally stand for God may become abnormal.
The Lord showed what was His intention by describing His followers as a little flock to whom His Father purposed to give the kingdom. The latter clause shows that the condition of being a little flock is to persist until the time when disciples shall receive the kingdom; for had they by that time become something vast the kingdom would not in that case be given to a little flock (Luke 12: 32).
This smallness of the flock is implied in them being sheep in the
midst of wolves (Matt. 10: 16): the flock small, the pack so large as to surround them. During the first three centuries after Christ
this condition continued: Christians were few comparatively, heathen were
many. But the Enemy early designed to
change this situation, to the advantage of his kingdom. He commenced this manoeuvre early in the
second century, by inducing Christians to elevate a single elder to be the bishop of each little local group of
believers. Then he advanced by inducing
these bishops to meet in districts for mutual counsel as to the churches of
the district, which became the rudiment of a diocese. This led on to general Councils, and
presently to the exalting of one bishop (of
This universal organized Church supplanted the separate unaffiliated local churches which alone
the apostles formed without inter-church organization. And in the fourth century this Church
Constantine made the official Church of the Empire, and tens of thousands of
unregenerate pagans were baptized into Christians. This meant that
what still styled itself the
This dread process has been seen again and again. Practically every Protestant denomination has gone through the same development. Beginning as a few persecuted witnesses to some Gods truth or practice, these also have developed into Corporations of size, intolerant of dissidents.
The process can be watched among certain Christians where one
might least expect and can most regret it, the Plymouth
Brethren. They began as small
and independent groups of believers, zealous only to obey the Word of God and
further His rights among men. But the
first of these small groups of
At the same period (the thirties of the last century) another
such small group commenced at Bethesda Chapel,
The human agent in these divisions was an exceptionally able, devoted, and learned disciple. The one party that followed his lead (Exclusive Brethren) accepted his rejection of the New Testament feature of independent churches and regarded all their assemblies all over the world as one community as regards order and discipline. Again the Enemy saw his advantage and has divided and divided them again and again.
The other churches, which refused the ruling principle in question, and remained separate companies, thereby avoided general divisions, became mighty in evangelism, and saw the Lord of the harvest thrust forth hundreds and hundreds of His servants to preach in many distant countries; and He greatly blessed their labours.
But the present generation has seen the same skilful and
untiring Enemy take advantage of this vast and blessed service to weld the
greater number of these workers into a Missionary Organization, with its
Central Office, Magazine, List of some 1,100 workers,
its central fund, and its huge annual meetings in
How greatly to the purpose is the prayer of the early Moravians, From the unhappy desire of becoming great, good Lord deliver us.
The same disastrous tendency can be traced in detail. Great cathedrals, fine churches, large halls,
vast congregations, extensive schools and hospitals; correspondingly large
funds all done on a noble scale, and all tending away from the condition of the
lowly herb to that of the great tree.
And the promoters will all avow that their one design is to do things
worthily of God and to strengthen His kingdom, not perhaps seeing that there
develops in their own heart the spirit of the great Emperor who said, Is not this
Let each of us examine his own heart. How sadly often it has been seen that a poor and spiritual brother having been prospered in business, or having by diligence advanced in learning, or having otherwise become great in outward condition, has become dwarfed spiritually when important outwardly, a Diotrephes who loves to have the pre-eminence and to lord it over Gods heritage. The history is repeated, When he was strong, his heart was lifted up, so that he did corruptly (2 Chron. 26: 16). From the unhappy desire of becoming great, good Lord deliver me!; for as certainly as a man, a church, a community becomes great the birds of the heaven will make themselves at home in its branches.
The Birds of the Heaven.
Ezek. 31: 6 and Dan. 4:
12. offer no moral parallel to the
supposed meaning of our parable by which it is made to picture the conversion
of all nations through the peaceful preaching of the gospel. For the kings of Assyria and
But in truth the Lord had only just before explained clearly what He now meant by birds of the heaven. For in the parable of the sower it was these who snatched away the seed of the word, and Christ declared that they represented the Evil One, and of course his demon servants. It is the spirits of darkness who can enjoy and utilize the great organizations and great individuals which pass as Christian, but are abnormal growths alien to the kingdom of heaven. For that kingdom is composed of little children and no others can enter it or become great in it (Matt. 19: 1-6; 19: 14; Mark 10: 13-15; Luke 19: 15-17).
There is a kingdom into which none enter but children, in which the children play with infinite forces, where the childs little finger becomes stronger than the giant world; a wide kingdom, where the world exists only by sufferance; to which the worlds laws and developments are for ever subjected; in which the world lies like a foolish wilful dream in the solid truth of the day. (W. Fleming Stevenson, Praying and Working, 1863.)
Nor is there any other sufficient explanation of the pride, self-sufficiency, luxury, and cruelty that have so constantly developed in great societies and great individuals except that they have been infected with the spirit of the Evil One, through those spirit agents who promote, enter, and inspire that which is outwardly great. It was by a nominal Christian king and his ecclesiastical minions that the saintly Samuel Rutherford was summoned to appear (1661), that they might judicially murder him as they had already slain other leaders of his godly type.
But he was already on his death-bed, and on hearing of it, calmly remarked that he had got another summons before a superior judge and judiciary, and sent the message. I behove to answer my first summons, and ere your day arrive, I will be where few kings and great folk come. (Bonar, Letters of Samuel Rutherford, Biographical Sketch.)
Once again: From the unhappy desire of becoming great, good Lord deliver us.
Parable Five: THE LEAVEN AND THE MEAL
Matt. 13: 33; Luke 13: 20, 21
It has been justly observed that the tree of the preceding parable represents growth outward and visible, but that leaven works in secret: It was hidden in the meal. Those who regard the visible growth as representing the final triumph of the gospel over all mankind, naturally see in the leaven affecting the whole mass of meal another indication of that triumph, only viewed as the quiet inward influence of the truth changing mankind.
In support of this some say that leaven is not invariably a
symbol of evil and cite the two loaves at Pentecost, which were waved before
Jehovah, yet were baken with leaven (Lev.
23: 15-17). But why did these contain leaven? Passover
having been fulfilled at
The same principle explains the presence of leaven in some of
the wheaten cakes of the peace offering (Lev. 7: 13). The leavened cakes were associated with the
thanksgiving of the offerer. Now
thanksgiving, even though inspired by a godly spirit, is a product of the heart
of the worshipper, and sin being still an element in him, his praise is
sullied, which was typified by the leaven.
That is a deep and searching word which speaks of the iniquity of the holy things the
But if it be admitted that Scripture elsewhere than in the parable always uses leaven as a symbol of evil, it is still argued that this is not by necessity, but that it can rightly be regarded in this parable as a symbol of a good influence. It is truly said that the same object may picture either good or evil, as when a lion is now a symbol of Satan, now of God, now of the Son of God (1 Pet. 5: 8; Hos. 5: 14; Rev. 5: 5). Similarly, it is urged, the action of leaven in meal, which can be hurtful, can also be helpful, as when bread is thereby made more wholesome.
Incidentally, I beg to question this last assertion. In the course of travel I have eaten not a little unleavened native bread, and I am pretty sure that it is more sustaining than leavened bread. But this apart, it is to be remembered that, in order that leavened bread may be eaten, the normal action of the leaven must be arrested by great heat, apart from which the dough would be duly and wholly corrupted.
Now this process of arrestment the Lord did not introduce into the parable, and it is not allowable for us to put into a picture a feature the Artist left out and which is not of necessity implied, and then to make the meaning depend on that inserted feature. As He drew the picture the leaven continued to work until the whole lump of dough was leavened, it was not that the action of the leaven was stopped and the dough baked for bread.
In those cases where one figure is used in opposite senses it will be found that no doubt can arise as to whether the sense is good or evil. In the present instance the parable in no wise makes clear that leaven has an opposite typical meaning to that which it has in all other places in the Word of God, and so it is to be understood as used here in harmony with its otherwise invariable use as symbolizing an evil influence.
The nature of that influence can be learned easily from Scripture.
1. Leaven is something inharmonious with redemption from sin, indeed so utterly contrary thereto that its mere presence in the house during the seven days of the great redemption festival of Passover was punishable with death (Ex. 12: 19). Moreover, no sacrifice offered upon the altar of atonement was to have contact with it (Ex. 34: 25; Lev. 2: 11). On the contrary the cakes that were to contain leaven, in the two instances above-mentioned, had to be accompanied by atoning sacrifices, but were not themselves to be burned on the altar. Hence the charge of Amos that the Israelites were burning leavened sacrifices (Amos 4: 5; where offer should read as R.V. margin offer by burning).
2. The Lord specified the teachings of the Pharisees, the Sadducces, and Herod as being leaven (Matt. 16: 5-12; Mark 8: 15; Luke 12: 1).
(i) The Pharisees. Christ particularized the leaven of the Pharisees as being hypocrisy. This answers to leaven in that it works secretly and insidiously, depraving the heart. By it the whole life is corrupted and is vitiated before God. Christs usage of the term hypocrisy is most searching and instructive.
(a) The hypocrite loves the external, the present, and the praise of men; to be reckoned pious; to gain which status and esteem he will mask himself in false guise. Matt. 6: 2, 5-18.
(b) The hypocrite is keen to notice any tiny defect in another (the mote in his, eye), and is conceited enough to think he can put him right; but he ignores his own serious errors (the beam). Matt. 7: 5; Luke 6: 42.
(c) The hypocrite can understand the natural but not the spiritual: the changes of the weather he can discern, to the providential orderings of God he is blind. Luke 12: 56.
(d) The hypocrite is religious enough, but his religion is external and is governed by the traditions of men, though these make void the Word of God. Therefore, though they honour God with their lips, and maintain the forms of worship, it is all in vain, for their heart is far from Him. Therefore the defilements which work as leaven in the heart break forth in life. Matt. 15: 1-20; Mark 7: 1-23.
(e) The hypocrite will demean himself so deeply as to feign to be righteous that he may, if possible, entangle and trip up the truly righteous. Matt. 22: 15-22; Mark 12: 13-17; Luke 20: 19-26.
The hypocrites hostility to the
i. (ver. 13) He will not enter therein himself, nor submit to be ruled by God and His Word, but rather to the utmost of his power he will prevent others from entering.
ii. (ver. 15) He is eager and energetic to gain followers to his party, and lends his whole influence to making them more satanic than even himself. Satan is the chief Hypocrite of the universe, and these, filled with his deceit, do his fell work.
iii. (vers. 23, 24) The hypocrite scrupulously insists upon obedience to the minor matters of the law, but despises its inner spirit and weightier demands: he strains out the gnat and gulps down the camel.
iv. (ver. 25) He insists that external practice ought to be as clean as the outside of a polished vessel. Granted this, then the secret practice of the hypocrite may be one of extortion and other signs of a life without moral restraint.
v. (ver. 27) Thus he is like a whitened sepulchre - outwardly adorned, inwardly corrupt and loathsome.
vi. (ver. 29) They profess to repudiate the crimes of their forbears, but show themselves in reality to be their true sons by completing their iniquities, and thus they display their true nature to be that of the Devil, as serpents and an offspring of vipers. Thus did the Lord repronounce their condemnation by John and warn them that they were assuring their own doom in the fires of Gehenna.*
* Of the Pharisees as a class older
scholars held the severe view that is the apparent force of the Gospel
narratives. See e.g. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Some more recent scholars considerably
modify this opinion. See H. L. Ellison,
Jesus and The Pharisees (The Victoria Institute). We are not required to regard them as sinners
above all that dwelt in
This is the detail picture of leaven as given by the Utterer of our parable. We shall illustrate it when treating of the Woman who hid it in the meal. It is enough now to observe that the spring out of which this polluted and polluting stream rose was the afore-mentioned insubordinate attitude to the will of God declared in His Word. While sitting on Moses seat they made void his law.
(ii) The Sadducees. Though this second dominant party in Jewry was in general conflict with the Pharisees, its teaching was equally leaven. They denied the existence of angels or other spirit beings, as well as any resurrection of the dead (Acts 23: 8). This was virtual atheism, since God is spirit. Consequently, though they formally admitted His right to be worshipped, they disallowed any real foreordination by Him and magnified the will of man as the only determining factor, thus virtually and practically eliminating God. They were the then humanists. Their denial of a resurrection wholly set aside future punishments and rewards and left the present as the sole affair for mans attention. They were the Jewish materialists of their day.
(iii) Herod. Matt. 14: 1-12; Mark 6: 14-29; Luke 3: 18-20; 9: 7-9; 23: 7-12. Every man has influence, every king special influence. There was that about Herod Antipas which caused the Lord Jesus to compare him to leaven. His own disciples were in danger of being infected by this leaven and needed to be warned against it. This leaven Christ distinguished from that of the Pharisees: Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8: 14, 15).
We need not go to Josephus to learn of the influence of Herod. The few notices in the Gospels will indicate the nature of his leaven.
(a) He was licentious: he had induced the wife of his own brother to marry him.
(b) He was revengeful and vindictive. John the Baptist had faithfully reproved him for this immorality, and he had first imprisoned and later murdered him, though he recognized him as being righteous and holy.
(c) He was crafty and therefore deceitful. This the Lord indicated by calling him a fox (Luke 13: 31-33). Herod had heard of Jesus, and would like to have seen one so famous work a miracle (Luke 23: 8). But this Rabbi was popular with Herods own subjects and might be dangerous. They had once intended to make him a king (John 6: 15). He would fain have killed Jesus, but perhaps he did not want to incur the public odium of murdering another prophet. Yet he let it be known that he was planning this crime, possibly thinking that the dangerous Teacher and Leader would quietly save him trouble by withdrawing beyond his borders. Those equal hypocrites, the Pharisees, served his purpose by advising Jesus to disappear lest Herod should carry out his threat.
(d) Like other vile, unprincipled, unscrupulous men Herod was superstitious. The foul murder of John rankled in his memory and he jumped to the conclusion that Jesus must be John resuscitated. Conscience made him a coward.
The influence of such a sovereign could not but leaven his court and kingdom, aggravating the general debasement. There was a substantial party who supported him - the Herodians, and these were infected with his craftiness and joined the Pharisees in a base attempt to entrap Christ and embroil Him with the Roman governor to His undoing (Matt. 22: 16).
Thus leaven stands in the Gospels
for that of the Pharisees - hypocritical formalism,
that of the Sadducees - rationalistic materialism,
that of Herod - debasing sensualism.
All this appears afresh in the figurative use of leaven by the apostle Paul. It is he who affirms that Christians ought to remember the words of the Lord Jesus (Acts 20: 35). If, then, the Lord had, in the parable before us, used leaven as a type of good, Paul does not seem to have remembered this. He is the only other New Testament writer who uses the figure and in each place it pictures evil.
Gal. 5: 9. It is fairly clear that he knew of
this parable for he almost reproduces Christs phrase until it was
This was a thorough perversion of the true doctrine of justification by grace through faith, on the ground of the blood of Christ. If allowed to work, this leaven of error would corrupt the whole body of Christian and saving truth. This is equally the case with such doctrines as that baptism, or the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath, or any other work is necessary to salvation.
1 Cor. 5:
Here again Paul warns believers against the pervasive influence of evil,
repeating that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
But not only wickedness, the passions of the body, were in question, there was also at work malice, a readiness, on the one hand, to defraud another, and, on the other hand, a readiness for the defrauded to seek vengeance at the hand of the law (ch. 6). This hard spirit also could presently infect them all, and mercy and love fail. Biting and devouring one another, Christians can consume one another. It was the spirit of Herod and the Herodians, ready to slay the obnoxious Teacher of truth and holiness.
Then also among the Corinthians there was the leaven of the Sadducees, the denial of resurrection, the doctrine of annihilation (ch. 15). The apostle laboured to show that this was a complete denial of the Christian faith, destructive at once of salvation and holiness. He urged that evil communications corrupt good manners, an instance of leaven at work, and that the practical effect of the teaching was concentration on the present life and its bodily indulgences: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
In this place also Pauls statement corresponds remarkably with that which Christ said to the Sadducees upon this same subject of resurrection, namely, that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Luke 20: 38). In both contexts die and dead are used in the sense of the sceptics being answered, that is, non-existence. Not even God can be the God of what does not exist. These are the only places where the word death is allowed this meaning, and in these only for the meaning to be expressly repudiated.
The facts as to the symbolic meaning of leaven are:
I. That the Old Testament usage is uniformly of evil.
II. This parable seems to be the first occasion when the Lord spoke of leaven. On each later occasion He used it unmistakably as a symbol of evil. Even if they had no other guidance, how could the apostles have understood that first use otherwise than in the light of the uniform earlier and later usage?
III. That His inspired and commissioned apostle, the chief teacher of Christian doctrine, used leaven only as a symbol of evil.
IV. That if upon that first occasion the Lord meant leaven to typify a holy influence by which all mankind would ultimately be renewed, leading up to His own return and reign, then He flatly contradicted His own outlook, and His teaching given at the same time. For it is not to be denied that the parable of the darnel pictures this evil plant as continuing in the field alongside of the good plant, the wheat, right up to the consummation of the age, and only to be removed by the agency of the angels whom He, at His parousia, will send forth as reapers. And it is equally beyond denial that the parable of the drag-net gives exactly the same picture of the close of this age - good and bad fish in the net together, only to be separated by the angels.
As it is impossible that the Son of God should have contradicted Himself, leaven must represent an insidious influence that should enter the kingdom of heaven and work corruption.
It is only the preconceived and unwarranted notion that the gospel is at last to save the world at large in this age that calls for the unfounded and contradictory view that the mustard tree and the leaven represent a normal and good process. By this view these parables are forced into irreconcilable conflict with the teaching of the whole Word of God upon both the symbolic use of leaven and of the character and condition of the end of the present age.
2. The Meal.
Leaven therefore represents evil teachings which produce corrupt practice: Then understood they that He bade them ... beware ... of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16: 12).
What, then, is the meal in which the leaven works? It must be something congruous in its nature to leaven. Leaven will not affect iron or stone, their nature being incongruous to it. The leaven used in fermenting bread is yeast, which is a plant, and therefore acts upon wheat which is also the product of a plant. It follows that meal points to something congruous to leaven, and the latter being teaching the former must be teaching. Therefore the meaning is false doctrine corrupting sound doctrine, error spoiling truth.
But the meal the woman took was the staple food of the household, its staff of life. Thus Sarah made cakes from three measures of meal for the guests who had come to Abraham.*
* With this instance in mind no fanciful meaning need be sought for the measures being three in number. Apparently it was the quantity normally used and would be the natural amount to mention.
What, then, is the staff of life in the realm of the spirit? Let Jeremiah answer. Of the finding of the book of the law he says: Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy words were unto me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart (Jer. 15: 16; 2 Chron. 34: 14-16). Let the Lord Jesus answer by His words: I am the bread of life ... he that eateth Me he also shall live because of Me, and the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life (John 6: 48, 57, 63).
Therefore meal typifies Gods word written and Gods word Personal, which two are one, the Person, the Living Word, being the subject and energy of the written Word. Therefore leaven is such error as negatives the truth and influence of the written word of God concerning the Son of God: which indeed includes all subordinate truths, for Christ could say, I am the truth (John 14: 6), and it was all one to say the Spirit of truth shall guide you into all the truth or to say He shall take of Mine and declare it unto you (John 16: 13, 14).
This, then, is the true meal, the true staff of life, Christ revealed and appropriated in Scripture; and man doth not live by [material] bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4: 4); for, as we saw when considering the new birth unto eternal life, the words of God are both living and life-giving.
Of course, all earthly illustrations fail in some point or
degree. This lies in the imperfectness
of things earthly. Here enters the importance of taking
statements strictly, and also limiting the illustration to the exact point
illustrated. It is not that truth, like
meal, can in itself be corrupted. This
is not what is said, but that, in the
outward development of the
This enforces the principle of interpretation that the whole
picture is what represents the kingdom of heaven, not its features
3. The Woman.
The outworking of this forecast can be traced in the arising of that depraved clerical system which has debased before men the honourable name of Christian. For in the typology of Scripture a woman represents a system, either political or religious, or both in combination.
(1) The peoples of
(2) In the Revelation the heavenly company, formed of some of the redeemed from the earth, is portrayed as a woman (ch. 12), and later is shown as the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (ch. 21).
(3) In the same book there is a woman corrupting the church in
Thyatira to whom is given the name Jezebel. Her full-length portrait is drawn in ch. 17 as the
This Jezebel is the woman who, more than all others, inserted the leaven into the meal. She is older and larger than the Roman Catholic Church, though this is her present chief realm.
The ancient Jezebel, wife of Ahab and queen of
The old Jezebel was a typical, concentrated example of the paganism that originated in Babylon after the Flood and rapidly corrupted mens minds with false philosophies, perverting the truth which men then knew as to God and creation, heaven and earth, time and eternity (Rom. 1: 18-32).
The inserting of error into the true apostolic doctrine and practice was done with truly satanic subtlety, and sometimes by men in the system who, one would believe, had as individuals no perception of what they were doing. For example:
(1) In the local churches as left by the apostles the rulership was exercised by a plurality of elders in each assembly (Acts 14: 23; 20: 17; Phil. 1: 1; 1 Cor. 16: 15, 16; 1 Thess. 5: 12-14; 1 Tim. 5: 17; 1 Pet. 5: 1). But the last of the apostles had been but recently taken when, early in the second century, the martyr bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, commenced the exalting and lauding of one bishop in each church as the honourable representative of Christ in that church. In due time the leaven worked widely until churches everywhere were dominated by a single elder in each.
(2) As the apostles left the churches each was an administrative unit, depending directly upon the Head in heaven, acting by His Spirit on earth. There was no visible union of the churches. The bond between believers was spiritual only, that of a common faith and a mutual love.
In that same second century these single bishops in each
church began to meet for consultation of the affairs in their particular
districts. At first their consultations
resulted only in recommendations, and each bishop and church acted on these
only when they saw good. But in due time recommendations stiffened
into rulings, and local churches which did not submit could be excommunicated,
as were the Donatists in
(3) By this time all the churches that
assented to these developments had been federated into the
(4) In apostolic days it was persons already professing faith unto salvation who alone were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The second century saw the entrance of the unscriptural practice of baptizing infants, to which was soon added the deceit that by this baptism first children, and later adults, became regenerate and members of the church. By consequence it followed later that clerics who administered baptism taught that without baptism children died in sin and were lost for ever. By this cruel chain this false baptism was riveted upon the generality of professors, to the exaltation of the clerics.
This leaven spread throughout the whole
(5) In the first days the Supper of the Lord was simply a feast of remembrance. The eating and drinking set forth that inward participation of Christ by faith which makes Him our spiritual life. This was perverted by the leaven that the elements used in the Supper are themselves the transmitting medium of the spiritual grace. This led on to the utterly false assertion that the consecrating priest effects the transubstantiation of the physical elements into the actual body and blood of the Lord, and to the additional falsehood that only by partaking of these consecrated elements can Christ be appropriated and salvation be maintained.
(6) But who has adequate power to effect this wondrous change of the bread into the veritable body of the glorified Lord? This involved the attribution to the consecrating cleric of a priestly office conferred by his consecration by the bishop, and it further involves the falsity of his being a sacrificing priest, an official wholly unknown to the New Testament.
And how does a bishop acquire right and power to endow a priest with these miraculous powers of regenerating a sinner by baptism and then of turning bread into Christ and feeding the partaker unto eternal life? The answer is offered in the figment of the Chief Bishop, the Pope of Rome, having derived his authority to consecrate by succession from Peter the apostle.
(7) And all this mixture of error with truth involves the denial of the sufficiency and finality of the atoning death of the Son of God to secure salvation for him who truly repents and believes. And it mixes works and sacraments with faith as the means of appropriation by the believer of the grace of God, and thus vitiates both faith and grace (Rom. 4).
Thus from the small grain of leaven, the elevating of one elder above the rest of the brethren, there developed the vast hierarchical system of the Papacy, with its corruption in doctrine and its depraved practice: and what passed as the kingdom of God on earth was actually a system in which Babylonian Jezebel had seated herself in the church and seduced even servants of the Lord to commit fornication, and eat things sacrificed to idols. For the saints whose images were set up for veneration were too often but pagan idols with new names.
In most of the great church histories an effect of the leaven
is shown in this feature, that the doings and doctrines of this Jezebel, the
Let us not mistake the situation that will thus arise. This gigantic conglomeration of sects is Christless in all but name: it does not by any right or means really represent the church of the living God of which the rejected Son of God is at once Founder and Foundation. In obscure spots the lowly herb still flourishes, though amidst storms; the little flock still waits on the Great Shepherd: the house of God has not been razed; the gates of Hades have not prevailed.
The true outlook on the history of this true church is set forth admirably in E. H. Broadbents The Pilgrim Church (Pickering & Inglis, Ltd.). He shows that all the centuries through the true pilgrim church has been those who broke away from the Woman and took the Word of God as their rule, instead of tradition, and therefore were persecuted by Jezebel.
The inquiring reader can pursue the subject of the growth and character of the Confederated Church in Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire; Charles Reade, the Cloister and the Hearth, ch. LXXIV; Hatch, The Organisation of the Early Christian Churches; Hislop, The Two Babylons; Pember, The Church, the Churches, and the Mysteries, and Mystery Babylon the Great and the Mysteries and Catholicism.
Before leaving this parable we will consider a few more instances of the hiding of leaven in the meal by this Woman.
(8) The Godhead.
creed avows the orthodox doctrine of the trinity of Persons in the one God. In
practice, however, the glorification of Mary makes her the chief object of
devotion. In the first period of the
(9) Atonement. The Church avows that the sacrificial death of Christ
is indispensable to our salvation; but this is vitiated by the doctrine that
this salvation is obtained through the sacraments, and these require the priest
for effectual administration.
(10) The Catholic creed admits the Divine origin of the Old and New Testaments, but this is corrupted by the recognition of the Apocrypha also. Moreover, before the official Catholic creed admits the Holy Scriptures it requires the avowal of a steadfast assent to and acceptance of alleged apostolic traditions. And to the acknowledgment of the Scriptures the promise is appended not to interpret them save according to the unanimous consent of the Church Fathers. As these in fact are not unanimous on doctrine no interpretation of Scripture by the individual Catholic is possible. Thus does leaven vitiate the meal. Tradition is made the more important, and the Word of God is made of none effect.
(11) Purgatory. In my commentary on Hebrews it is shown (ch. 13) that Scripture warns that an unsanctified believer is liable to the parental chastisement of God after death, with a view to his being fitted for the Millennial kingdom. To this salutary teaching the Catholic Church adds the fundamental error that this purification is necessary to final salvation whereas the blessed truth is that this is dependent solely upon the atoning death of Christ relied upon by faith.
To false doctrine on this matter the Church then appends the further falsity that its priests can help the sufferer through and out of purgatory by their masses, thus greatly strengthening the grip of the priests on their dupes and their money.
(12) The Assumption of Mary. On p. 187 of the commentary on Hebrews mentioned it is said:
It is worth deep and full inquiry whether it be not the case that the whole system of Roman theology, and each dogma separately, has some element of truth at its heart, truth perverted and corrupted, but there. It is to be doubted whether any one of those dogmas is undiluted error. That Church has been pre-eminently the woman that has hid the leaven of error in the meal of truth; but the meal is there.
If this is so, it is to be expected that in even their doctrine of purgatory there is an element of truth.
Here is a theme worthy of some competent evangelical theologian and historian.
A reviewer remarked upon the paragraph just quoted that there is true insight here, but the statement goes too far: what element of truth lies at the heart (for example) of the latest Dogma, that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
The answer affords a useful illustration of the feature here discussed.
The history of this dogma begins with an early legend that almost immediately after the death of Mary Christ appeared, with His angels, and caused her soul to be reunited with her body and she was carried to heaven.
The legend appeared in the third century and was attributed to Gnostic or Collyridian heretics. The latter worshipped the Virgin Mary as a goddess and offered to her cakes as a sacrifice. The book that preserved this story was for a while rejected by the Church and was officially condemned as heretical by a Decretum attributed to Pope Gelasius A.D. 494. By a series of forgeries in the names of John the Apostle, Melito, Athanasius, Jerome, and Augustine, and further by the adoption of the Gnostic legend by some accredited teachers, writers, and liturgies, it became accepted by the Church in centuries 6, 7, and 9 (see Smiths Dict. of Christian Antiquities, ii, 1142, 1143). But it remained only a pious tradition [which nevertheless ought to be accepted] down to A.D. 1950, when it was exalted to being a Dogma which the faithful are bound to believe at peril of the soul.
Here is a clear denial of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility, for what was condemned as heretical in 494 was affirmed as Divine truth in 1950.
Thus the lowly Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of His brothers and sisters (Mark 3: 31; 6: 3; John 2: 3-5; Gal. 1: 19), was metamorphosed into the Perpetual Virgin and impiously exalted to be the Queen of Heaven with the blasphemies which are attached to her, as in the instance cited above where she is placed between the Father and the Son in adoration, and as when she is set forth as the tender-hearted Intercessor, who pleads for sinners at the hands of her harsh and unwilling Son.
Thus the pagan Queen of Heaven, as owned at first by the
heretical Collyridians, was adopted by the
The reader may think the reviewer justified in questioning
whether there can be any element of truth in this blasphemy. Yet going back to the original form of the
legend, its essence is this: That immediately after Marys death, by a descent
of the Lord from heaven with His angels, her body was re-quickened by reunion
with her soul, brought from
The error mingled with the truth was that the event had already taken place on the case of Mary, and this paved the way for the disastrous corruptions mentioned.
If the apostles had taught the early church that all believers go to heaven at [the time of thair] death this would of necessity have applied to Mary and there would have been neither need nor room for inventing a special legend so as to get her there. The fact of the legend about her in particular shows that the apostles had not so taught.
(13) The Place of Dead Saints. Let it now be much observed that, according to the
legend, Marys soul did not at death go to heaven above, but was carried by
angelic agency to
Upon this the learned Bishop Pearson, in his monumental treatise on The Creed, writes on Article V as follows:
This hath been in the later ages of the church the vulgar opinion of most men ... But even this opinion, as general as it hath been, hath neither that consent of antiquity, nor such certainty as it pretendeth. ... The most ancient of all the fathers, whose writings are extant, were so far from believing that the end of Christs descent into hell [ i.e.Hades] was to translate the saints of old into heaven, that they thought them not to be in heaven yet, nor ever to be removed from that place in which they were before Christs death, until the general resurrection. ... Indeed, I think there were very few (if any) for above five hundred years after Christ, who did so believe Christ delivered the saints out of hell [Hades], as to leave all the damned there; therefore this opinion cannot be grounded upon the prime antiquity, when so many of the ancients believed not they were removed at all, and so few acknowledged that they were removed alone. ... But there is no certainty that the patriarchs and the prophets are now in another place and a better condition than they were before our blessed Saviour died; there is no intimation of any such alteration of their state delivered in the scriptures there is no such place with any probability pretended to prove any actual accession of happiness and glory already past.*
* Griffith Thomas discussion in The Principles of Theology (66-72) I feel to be inadequate and faulty. It is to be remembered that Pearson uses hell in its older sense of hades, the place of the dead [in the underworld], not in its present common sense of final punishment, the lake of fire.
This opinion that believers at death go to heaven and glory is worse in its nature than the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. That doctrine did at least include the resurrection of the body as prerequisite to ascent to heaven, this other opinion dispenses with resurrection as a preliminary to translation, to the presence of God. In this particular the one was scriptural, the other is unscriptural; and in scope of influence the latter is the larger error, for the one applied to Mary alone, the other affects myriads of believers.
The practical effect is to make resurrection unnecessary, for the saint has already reached the goal and the highest state possible, the glory of God.* In essence this is much the same as the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus, that resurrection is past already, and its moral effect is similar, even to diminish faith as regards a living expectation of [a] resurrection [of reward] at the coming of the Lord, even in those who sincerely aver belief in the last doctrine.
* I understand that William Tyndale urged this argument
against the Catholic, Sir T. More, who asserted that Christians go to heaven at
death (Reply to Sir. T. More,
Now that which lessens in the [regenerate] Christian the keen desire for the coming of the Lord [to personally establish His Messianic Kingdom and righteous Rule upon and over this earth] is injurious. It works alongside of the error that the church is to convert the world in this age, which error gained ground at the same time that the hope of the Lords return [and millennial reign] ceased to be generally held by Christians.
(14) The Sovereignty of the Saints. Scripture teaches that it is the purpose of God that Christ shall be King over all the earth (Ps. 2; Dan. 7: 13, 14; Matt. 25: 31; etc.). Included in that purpose is the plan that those who will form the church of the firstborn ones, those who conquered in the present wars of the Lord, shall share the sovereignty and glory of Christ (Matt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 28-30; 1 Cor. 6: 2, 3; Rev. 2: 25-28; 3: 21; etc.).
This high prospect the
Out of this perverse and ill-timed application of the truth grew the rank and poisonous weed of Papal Supremacy. The Pope claimed to be king of kings, lord over all rulers and peoples, and to have authority to depose sovereigns and absolve a kings subjects from their due allegiance to him. As Vice-regent for Christ it was his to live in more than royal splendour and luxury.
This corrupt and civilly corrupting leaven, this evil political theory, is still held firmly by that Church, and is yet to be realized when the Harlot Church shall for a short time sit on and direct the Scarlet-coloured political Beast, the kingdom of Antichrist (Rev. 17).
Annually, in mock imitation of the blessed Lord having washed the feet of the apostles, the Pope washes the feet of twelve beggars. But, as Bengel said, it would show more true humility were he to wash the feet of one king.
The blessed hope of the return of the Lord was a vital part of apostolic doctrine. Whatever diminishes it in the heart of the believer is of the nature of leaven, a corrupting of truth by an admixture of error. Here each who abhors the Woman has to fear and watch lest he help her to spread leaven. The Roman Church is not the only agency that has done this work of the Evil One.
These instances of the work of the Woman and the leaven against the truth will suffice. The serious lesson of the parable is that this process having early commenced in the sphere of the kingdom of heaven will continue to work until the consummation of the age, so that the coming Lord has Himself raised the question whether when the Son of man cometh shall He find the faith on the earth? (Luke 18: 8).
Parable Six: THE HIDDEN TREASURE
Matt. 13: 44
Confusion of the church with the kingdom has greatly darkened the exposition of this parable.
To some the church is the treasure, Christ the Man who found it and who gave His all to acquire it, by buying the world in which it lay hidden.
But the church of God was chosen before the world was founded and Christ was the One in association with Whom that choice was made (Eph. 1: 4). How, then, could the Son of God be ignorant of its existence and happen upon it casually while busy in this world about other things? The church already existed in His and the Fathers joint counsels, and the Son knew that to Himself the Father had given its members (John 17: 6).
Others suggest that the church is the treasure hidden in the mass of mankind, and that the inquiring soul learns of this church and its privileges, desires them, and surrenders all he has to gain a share in the church. But is the society known as the church so completely hidden that one knows nothing of its existence till he happens on it accidentally?
Another says that the truth of God is the treasure, that it is greatly hidden by its association with errors as held by various sects, as the treasure was hidden in the field, but that when a person makes the discovery of truth he buys the whole field to get the treasure; that is, at whatever necessary cost he accepts the sect entire, with its opinions and ways, because there he has found the treasure. But sectarianism is no manifestation of the kingdom of heaven of which the parable speaks.
Leaving these incongruous notions we notice that this short parable presents these features:
1. The kingdom of heaven is a treasure.
2. It is a hidden treasure.
3. It is a treasure that may be found unexpectedly.
4. It affords great joy to the finder.
5. It will cost him all that he has to acquire it.
The features above indicated are seen in the case of Abraham,
our spiritual father. He lived in an
earthly kingdom of splendour and power, but the
The same features are seen in Moses. He had princely rank in the greatest kingdom
of his day. He was powerful, highly
educated, wealthy; but of the kingdom of heaven he
knew nothing. He knew that the race to
which he belonged by birth had a different god to those of
It was thus with the eleven apostles. They knew in their heads more than Abram or Moses had known when called of God, but of the kingdom of heaven as a present reality they were ignorant. But the Prophet from Nazareth passed their way; John the Baptist drew their attention to Him; they heard Him teach as to the kingdom; in an ecstasy of joy one of them goes to find his friend to announce the wondrous news, We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote (John 1: 45). Later one of them told the price they had paid: Lo, we have left all and followed Thee (Matt. 19: 27).
It was the same with Saul of Tarsus. Well born, well educated,
a man of means and leisure, he lived for the world of Jewry, outside the
kingdom of heaven, carrying out his own thoughts, not the will of God (Acts 26:
9). But suddenly, on the
open road to
A Catholic monk, his spirit burdened with a sense of sin, knew
naught of the freedom of the
The dark ages saw countless fulfilments of this parable of the
That behind this accidental finding of the treasure there lies an activity of the Divine grace and guidance is blessedly true, but this potent factor is not introduced into the parable, because the Teacher wished to emphasize the human and outward aspect of the kingdom.
It is to be observed that the Lord does not say that this parable shows the terms upon which a sinner may find pardon and peace. That priceless boon may be reached by the process and at the cost indicated; yet many have gained peace with God without it. Children reared in Christian homes are often instances of finding life without such drastic and costly experiences. The Lord is talking of the kingdom of heaven* and of one phase it will display in this age. Now to know the power of that kingdom, to be a thorough disciple of its King, the cost is always as here indicated and nothing less. Justification and eternal life are unconditional gifts of grace (Rom. 3: 24; 6: 23), but discipleship, with all its high privileges and noble prospects, is costly. No one can be a disciple of Christ who does not give Him the absolute preference over the dearest relatives, as Abraham did. None can follow Christ who does not bear his own cross, for Jesus bore His. The cross is the rugged instrument of death to self. I have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2: 20). No one can be Christs disciple who does not renounce the title to all that he possesseth, for Christ renounced all that He possessed to do the will of God on earth (2 Cor. 8: 9; Phil. 2: 5-8).
[* Note the words kingdom of heaven: it is not a kingdom in heaven, as so many believers seem to imagine! The author is not speaking here of Christs eternal kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21: 1), after this earth is destroyed by fire!]
Thus the application of this parable goes beyond the first finding of [eternal] salvation. Many who have gained assurance of pardon halt there, and suffer arrested spiritual development. It is frequently so with children converted early. The kingdom of heaven, as the true sphere of interest and activity, may not be seen for years. It is a hidden treasure. At length a passage of Scripture suddenly illuminates the mind and challenges devotion; or a book or an address suddenly arrests attention and calls for full dedication to Christ and His interests; or some consecrated and rich spiritual life, met unexpectedly, creates a hunger for a similar experience. It has occurred often that the price to be paid is all that has been held dear - maybe a friend, a home, a position and prospects, a fortune.
In a theological college there was a student of great grace, unction, and heavenly influence. The Principal conversed with him and said: I would give all I have to get what you have; to which the reply was: Then you may have it, sir, for that is just what it cost me.
Did not the psalmist point to the essential idea the Lord presents in the parable when he wrote: I rejoice at Thy word as one that findeth great spoil? (Ps. 119: 162).
Matt. 13: 45, 46
The meaning of this parable, as of the last, has been hidden for many by the bringing in of the church. It is suggested that the merchant is Christ, the pearl the church, and the price paid the precious blood.
But the merchant was seeking for as many fine pearls as possible. Are there, then, many churches of God, of which one is the choicest? The New Testament speaks of only one church. It is a poor picture of the Son of God that He went wandering about the world looking for churches, and only by much inquiry found the best church.
Others have suggested that it is the seeking sinner who finds the
church. But there is no such thing as
The parable pictures:
1. A merchant.
2. He is seeking pearls.
3. He finds one unique pearl of exceptional value.
4. He parts with everything and secures it.
A main lesson here, as of the last parable, is the cost of acquirement; but there are differences and these are the more significant matters.
In that parable the finder did not know the treasure existed and learned of it unexpectedly. In this, the merchant knows that there are goodly pearls and he searches for them. It is while so engaged that the special pearl comes before him, to his joy and enrichment.
The erroneous views mentioned are excluded by the fact that the parable does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl, let alone that the church is like a pearl; it says that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant.
Nicodemus was a student of religious knowledge, and one of long-standing and rich acquirement or he could not have reached the position and reputation of a public Teacher or have been called to the Chief Council of the nation (John 3: 10; 7: 50). Prosecuting his inquiries he visits the new Rabbi that had arisen and finds in Him the all-inclusive truth.
It is said that the Jews of old set small worth on pearls, in comparison with Gentiles.* If this is so, it may suggest that this phase of the kingdom would have larger fulfilment among Gentiles. At any rate, many honest Gentiles have exhibited the features of the parable.
* The pearl that Cleopatra of Egypt dissolved and drank at the banquet with Mark Antony was valued at £80,000.
Justin Martyr, in the second century, tells how he travelled through the whole circle of Greek philosophy, seeking everywhere for that which would satisfy the deepest needs of his soul, and ever seeking in vain, till he found it at length in the gospel of Christ (Trench, 126).
Augustine (cent. 4) wandered far for satisfaction, and found it not till he could say: Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is disquieted till it resteth in Thee (Confessions, p. 1).
John Bunyan spent years in anxious search for peace, and found it at length in Christ crucified and glorified, as revealed in Holy Scripture.
I searched for truth, I found but doubt;
I wandered far abroad:
I hail the truth already found
Within the heart of God.
In the heathen world benighted souls are met who go from shrine to shrine, from land to land, seeking truth and a purer life than they know. They make painful pilgrimages, pay much money, do hard tasks, read much philosophy, in hope of finding truth and peace. Sometimes they happen in this life on the treasure by seeming accident, as by a Gospel being put into the hand on a street. Sometimes, however, in answer to their earnest inquiry, they are directed to some servant of Christ, and the pearl of saving knowledge is acquired.
We shall perhaps go beyond the strict scope of the parable if we ask as to the many such who sought but in this life did not find. But the subject is of deep interest and importance. Ancient heathen records reveal such seekers. Are they not in view in Rom. 2: 1-16? This passage deals with man as man: 0 man, whosoever thou art; and it guarantees that God will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life ... in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
It is not said that they found but only that they sought something glorious, honourable, and incorruptible; and in unison with the Lords words that he that seeketh findeth (Matt. 7: 8; Luke 11: 10) the assurance is given that these seekers shall receive [at that time] eternal life.
That these in view do not receive it in this life is suggested by the statement that both those who obey not the truth and those who seek it shall each receive his recompense at the same time, namely, in the day of general judgment when the godless will be judged, that is, at the great white throne (Rev. 20: 11-15).
Of course the basis of this grant of eternal life is the redemptive work of the cross; but the warrant for granting it to these who did not in this life know of that work is that they honestly sought for incorruptibility, being dissatisfied with their corruptness. And what they sought the God of mercy and of justice will see that [in the day] they find, even as the seeker for pearls found the one pearl of great price. God read the secret, hidden longing of the heart after truth and holiness: He knew that eternal life had been provided by Christ for all honest seekers, though they may not have heard this good news on earth: how, then, could He refuse it and so discredit the work that provided it? A judge may see ground in law for dismissing a prisoner though he had committed the evil deed, and though he was ignorant of the law known to the judge. Truly it is good news that God judges the secrets of all hearts, as Paul says.
The bearing of this on the parable is that such as these will enter the kingdom, and by the only process that avails, even the new birth that confers eternal life. By faith in Christ they will know a fulfilment of John 3, as does every regenerate person. But they will never form part of that limited company of the regenerate known as the [firstborn] church of God, for that company will have been completed and glorified at least a thousand years before these enter the [eternal] kingdom. Here is seen the necessity of distinguishing between the kingdom in general and the church in particular.
Thus some gain truth and life by seeming accident: Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness (Rom. 9: 30); while others gain salvation through most diligent search; and in many cases both the one and the other must pay the fullest price to secure what is a free gift of grace. This is the paradox of Isa. 55: 1, addressed to mankind at large, and to Gentiles in particular (vers. 3-5):
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
It is a free gift, yet it costs all that a man hath. This is a part of the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens.
Parable Eight: THE DRAG-NET
Matt. 13: 47-50
To hearts oppressed by inward disorder and helplessness, or by outward chaos and hopelessness, or by both, it verily is good news that there is a kingdom where these dire conditions are unknown, a kingdom which ruleth over all and which shall know no end. Thus the message of the kingdom, when presented adequately, has a power to draw attention and response.
The message of God's love and mercy has a sweet attractiveness, but the message of the kingdom is presented in this parable as having compelling force; as a later parable puts it, hearers are constrained to come in (Luke 14: 23), even as the drag-net compels the fish caught in its meshes.
But this means that all kinds and qualities of fish are caught, those bad for food as well as those good. This is parallel to the darnel among the wheat; and just as it was not possible to distinguish the one from the other until harvest time, so neither can the fish be distinguished until the net is drawn out of deep water on to the shore.
This repeats the lesson that the bad will continue alongside of the good all through this age and be found together at its close; for here the Lord again says distinctly that the separation will take place at the consummation of the age (40, 49).
There is seen here an illustration of the wrong of introducing details not given. The scene employed, if fully worked out, would require that the fishermen handling the net would be the persons who sorted the fish, and so it has been taken (e.g. Darby, Synopsis, iii, 99). But this is not specified, and it contradicts the parable of the darnel, for the servants were forbidden to attempt to separate it from the wheat, the bad from the good. Moreover, when the hour for the separating arrives the human servants of the Lord will have been already removed from the earth by rapture.
That the separation is deferred to the point of time indicated, the consummation of the age and the coming of the Son of man, implies what has been before noted, that the Lords parables of judgment at His return deal with persons found alive on earth, not with the dead; for judgment of those not accounted worthy to share the first resurrection is deferred to the close of the Millennial age and takes place before the great white throne. That the principles of the Divine judgment are the same for all persons does not alter the fact that the times and sessions of the court of God vary.
The angels shall come forth. As yet they pass to and fro from earth to heaven, engaged in their God-appointed service of mercy or of justice, but only when a Jacob or a Gehazi is granted an open eye are they perceived. At the hour of consummation they will not only come, as now, but come forth into open activity. These activities have been mentioned above under the parable of the darnel, as well as the fearful judgment the wicked must endure.
If the awful prospect were as vivid to us as it was to the Lord surely we would more urgently warn the wicked to turn from the error of his way. And surely such ministry of the truth is needed within the circle of the kingdom, as well as in circles not before reached, for thus the bad may be changed into the good, the darnel into wheat, the wolves into sheep. This is another of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the new birth unto eternal life; and the goodness and the longsuffering of God with this evil age are directed unto this blessed end (Rom. 2: 4; 2 Pet. 3: 9).
Parable Nine: THE INSTRUCTED SCRIBE
Matt. 13: 51, 52
Have ye understood all these things? The question implies that the Teacher expected that His pupils would have comprehended the parables, and their answer affirms that they had done so. This should both rebuke and encourage us; for those hearers had not yet received the Spirit of truth as the indwelling Illuminator, the Guide unto all truth, yet they understood; therefore we ought to be able to understand these parables.
He who cannot do so should inquire why he is further back in spiritual intelligence than were those disciples at that earlier period before Pentecost. Is it that he has not received the Indwelling Guide? If so, let him do so by definite acceptance of the promise concerning His indwelling and instruction.
Or is it that he has not given the earlier teachings of the Lord, as recorded in the Gospels, that serious attention which the apostles had given? These are the indispensable avenues of approach to the parables. The dispensational theory that the Gospels are Jewish in character has caused disastrous neglect of the teachings the Lord gave, with consequent misunderstanding of the Epistles the apostles wrote, for these are founded upon what they had learned from the Lord, afterward elaborated by His Spirit. Many who know well the letter of the Epistles know little of the Gospels, which is one reason why to them the Revelation also is a puzzle, for this is the completion of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the Gospels.
That the apostles had grasped at least the most dominant message of the parables is clear from their whole later ministry, spoken and written. They did not expect that more than a minority of their hearers would accept their message. Thus on the very day when they had been endued with power to witness, and might have supposed that all men would respond under the conviction and persuasion of the Spirit, Peters appeal was only, Save yourselves from this crooked generation (Acts 2: 40). Years later James explained the work of God through them as being that He visited the Gentiles to take out a people for His name, and that not until the Lord should return would Israel be re-established or the residue of men seek the Lord (Acts 15: 14-18).
Paul was not surprised that the words of the prophets should be fulfilled and Israelites despise, and wonder, and perish, and judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. When they did so he turned to the Gentiles, which also he viewed as a fulfilment of prophecy (Acts 13: 40-47; 28: 24-28). And that of the Gentiles only some would be faithful he made clear by warning them that they could be cut out of the olive tree of grace, as Israel had been (Rom. 11: 19-22). Further, he repeated most express Spirit-given warnings that the later times of this age, the last days, so far from seeing the gospel triumph universally, would witness apostasy in the church, and grievous wickedness and opposition to the truth (1 Tim. 4: 1; 2 Tim. 3: 1-9).
Peter emphasized this by saying that in the last days mockers shall come (2 Pet. 3: 3). John describes this whole age, in comparison with the vast stretch of preceding ages, as a last hour, and says, Ye have heard that Antichrist cometh. His spirit was already in the world and many precursors had arisen in preparation for his personal advent (1 John 2: 18; 4: 3). Of his coming Christians had heard from Paul also, and that he would only be put down by the personal appearing of Christ in glory (2 Thess. 2: 3-12). This parousia of Antichrist and his destruction by Christ John was used to expound and depict in the Revelation (chs. 13 and 19).
Jude summarizes and emphasizes the foregoing expectation, as being the consensus of apostolic teaching, by writing, But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how that they said to you, In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts (vers. 17, 18).
It was in this sense that the apostles had understood the essential message of the parables, and it is not possible rightly to understand their message unless the parables are understood in the sense which they grasped and repeated.
The statement before us implies these points:
1. In the kingdom of heaven there will be scribes. The scribe was one who, beyond the majority of people, could read and write fluently. Probably most Jewish boys of that time could read, but only few became proficient and could write and read easily. So he who could do this, and who gave himself diligently to learning, acquired a superior status and influence in society.
In His kingdom the Lord Jesus was and is the chief Scribe who, out of the Divine treasure of wisdom and knowledge, brought forth the truths which the Father entrusted to Him.
But He speaks of every scribe, pointing to His purpose to raise up in His kingdom other men of superior heavenly learning. Every believer is indeed intended to have power of spiritual perception and so of increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1: 9; 2 Pet. 3: 18; 1 John 2: 20). Nevertheless, and to further this end, the Lord granted to some special revelations and special gifts to impart truth (Eph. 3: 2-5; 4: 1-13; etc.). It is foretold that such will arise at the very close of this age: Dan. 11: 33; 12: 3.
Nor were such scribes restricted to the apostolic band: they were found in every assembly of believers, raised up and qualified by the Lord Himself 1 Cor. 16: 15, 16; 1 Thess. 5: 12, 13. These elders were to be apt to teach, they were to labour in the word and teaching (1 Tim. 3: 2; 5: 17). Such as do so are to be esteemed exceedingly highly, to be accounted worthy of double honour, and to be obeyed by the rest of the church.
Thus scribes are a perpetual need of the people of God and a perpetual gift to them; and woe to the kingdom in any place or period when they are not found or not respected.
2. The Scribes Treasure. On account of their position and authority the scribe is here compared to a householder (lit. a house-despot). For in the Divine ideal, and largely in actual fact in the Orient, the head of the house was just that, the head of the house, with real and acknowledged authority. And he kept under his own control his possessions, his treasured store.
To the chief Scribe, the Lord Jesus, the Father, as the inalienable Proprietor of all things, had committed all things (John 3: 35; 13: 3), and the Son could say to the Father, all things that are Thine are Mine (John 17: 10). It was the good pleasure of the Father that in the Son all the fulness should dwell (Col. 1: 19). It was out of this illimitable store that the Lord Jesus, when on earth, supplied His disciples, and still supplies them that learn of Him.
The means by which this continual supply is maintained differs from that initial supply to the disciples in the days of His flesh. Then He taught them by word of mouth, and when leaving them He promised that the Spirit of truth should come to them and should (1) bring to their remembrance all that He had said unto them; (2) should guide them into all the truth; (3) should declare unto them the future; (4) should show unto them further matters concerning the Father and Himself (John 14: 26; 16: 13-15).
This would constitute their treasure, and out of this they were to impart Divine knowledge to others. Thus they would become disciples unto the kingdom of heaven, and in their turn would thus make other disciples; and these they were to teach to observe all things whatsoever the Lord had commanded themselves (Matt. 28: 19, 20).
All this wealth of promise was fulfilled to that first band of disciples, including Paul. Speaking of the mystery fully unfolded to him Paul said that it had been granted to him to complete [Darby] the word of God, even the mystery, formerly hidden (Col. 1: 25). Thus the mysteries of the kingdom were fully revealed. As to the promise of the unveiling of the things to come, this found its fulfilment in the apocalyptic visions granted to John, for these carry forward the unfolding into the eternal kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth. Paul had summarized the essential feature of the future in the sentence that God shall be all in all (1 Cor. 15: 28): John expanded the steps and stages of that consummation.
The unfolding of as much of the mind and purposes of God as He designs now to give having been thus completed, no subsequent revelation has been required or is possible. The permanent record of it, through all its stages, was secured by the providence of God in preserving to later generations the written records of what prophets and apostles had taught. Therefore this record, in the Old Testament, the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation, has ever since been the available, and only available, treasure house out of which instructed scribes can draw what they can display and impart. Every such scribe comes under the Lords description householder, house-despot, one who knows what treasures he controls, where to find them, and how to exhibit them to advantage.
The scribe to the kingdom must therefore emulate those scribes of the former age in this at least, that he meditates in Gods Word day and night, so as to be conversant with all its contents. And he must also seek wisdom to open it out skilfully, harmoniously, attractively, impressively, and thus impart the truth to others to their enrichment, to the extension and establishment of the kingdom, and so to the glory of the King.
It is he who both does and teaches what the Lord commanded who shall be great in His kingdom (Matt. 5: 19). He must be himself a good man, have good treasure stored in his heart, and must bring it forth (Luke 6: 45). And so a senior scribe unto the kingdom exhorted a younger scribe in these pregnant words:
These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an ensample to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Be diligent in these things, give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest unto all. Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee: (1 Tim. 4: 11-16).
3. Treasures New and Old. The Lord and the apostles never neglected the truths that had long been revealed. They based their teachings and claims on the Old Testament. Think not that I came to destroy the law and the prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfil (Matt. 5: 17). And Paul declared of his ministry that he was saying nothing but what Moses and the prophets did say should come (Acts 26: 22).
Yet they constantly threw new light on old scriptures, and also they brought out of the purposes of God new material which they built upon what had been before laid down. This the instructed scribe will continue to do. The completed Word of God, the Bible, is inexhaustible. The centuries through scribes unto the kingdom have brought into prominence truths found in the Book but formerly overlooked or overlaid with the rubble of human tradition. Then, alas, godly men have formed systems of truth thus brought to light, which systems were but partial, and they have presently closed their eyes against everything not comprised in their imperfect creeds and formularies.
John Robinson, the Puritan, in century seventeen, could not sufficiently deplore that the Reformed Churches had come to a full stop in religion, for neither Lutherans nor Calvinists would go a step beyond what those great men had taught, though he was persuaded that the Lord had yet more light and truth to break forth from His Holy Word.*
* Similarly, in general, the followers of J. N. Darby will allow no variation from his prophetic scheme, nor will those of B. W. Newton readily go beyond his views. So for nearly a century these schools of thought have remained stationary on that subject.
Blessed are the scribes who are brave and skilful to bring forth the new, and blessed are those hearers who have minds open to accept the new, so long always as it is brought forth out of our only store of things Divine, the Word, the Holy Scriptures. Nor let it be overlooked that the Lord put the new before the old as that which the instructed scribe brings forth.
GENERAL REMARKS ON THE PARABLES OF MATTHEW 13
1. The moral sphere on earth which will arise from the impact
upon men of the
(1) The message concerning Gods rights and purposes will be spread among men as seed is sown in a field. There will be a four-fold result.
(a) Some seed will be fruitless, because Satan will at once remove it from the mind of the hearer.
(b) Some seed will produce quick but only transitory effects.
(c) Some seed will at first promise due results, but these will be choked off by worldly concerns and cares.
(d) A portion of the seed sown will grow to maturity and fruitfulness.
(2) To counteract this fourth result the Evil One will craftily intermingle his sons among the godly, to the possible injury of the latter.
(3) There is a persistent, Divinely-implanted energy ceaselessly at work to secure fruit unto God. Neither man nor Satan can ultimately frustrate this, for His word shall prosper in the thing unto which He has sent it (Isa. 55: 10, 11). Therefore, while the servants of the King should be faithful and zealous, they should not be anxious, for their labour cannot be in vain, being wrought in the power of the Lord (1 Cor. 15: 58).
(4) The sons of the Evil One will contrive that the outward form of the kingdom shall not remain as was the Divine plan, a lowly institution, but shall be changed into a great corporation, a visible and comfortable sphere of operations for wicked spirits.
(5) By means of false teachings this outward society shall be stealthily and thoroughly corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ.
(6) This corruption and confusion shall be so vast that men will scarce be aware that a Divine message and wealth are to be had. Only by seeming accident will it come to their knowledge and possession.
(7) Yet in times and places there will be earnest seekers of truth and purity, and these shall find the pearl.
(8) This mixed and confused condition shall continue until it reaches its a foreseen consummation. Then the Son of man will bring it to an end, by the agency of the angels of His power, and will establish on earth His kingdom in visible glory.
(9) For the maintenance and furtherance of His true interests, that is, for the deliverance of the Satan-enslaved and benighted, and for the strengthening of His own followers, the Lord will call and qualify instructed and faithful teachers of His truth on to the close of the age.
The passages cited above from Daniel (p. 119), point particularly to a godly remnant
2. The scope of the parables is this whole age. For the first parable views the personal activity of the Son of man when He was here, the Sower of the word, and the last extends to His personal intervention at His second advent. The various aspects shown will be ever arising here and there all through the age.
There is no clear indication that these aspects would arise consecutively, each picturing a further and following period during the age. This idea is negatived by the facts that as early as the second parable the end of the age is depicted, not only in the last parable, and that the features mentioned in all the parables did actually develop from the beginning of the age. Birds of the air were active from the start, darnel appeared without delay, abnormal growth, false teachings, the treasure being hidden from some and sought by others, the net holding bad as well as good, the presence of instructed teachers - these conditions all arose at the beginning and have continued ever since in various areas and degrees.
3. The series of eight parables as given in Matthew 13 is divided circumstantially into two groups of four each. The first four were addressed to the crowds in public, the second four to the disciples only and in private. Mark 4: 34 states that it was privately to His disciples that He expounded all things. This suggests that, though Matthew narrates the interpretation of the first two parables in the course of his report of the first four parables, it was actually given in private to the disciples.
It is somewhat conjectural to assign a reason for the one group being spoken to all and the other group to the few. Yet it is fact that the crowds were mainly persons who had no faith but rather were blinded by unbelief, while the disciples were blessed with faith and understanding. And yet it is to be borne in mind that the first four were but some of the parables addressed to all (Mark 4: 33), and we cannot say whether all those unrecorded parables were of the same character as those on record.
Yet there is indicated some closer connexion between the last three in Matthew than between the first four. The latter are simply connected by the word another, each being merely additional; but the three are more closely linked by again, that is, they in some sense supplement one another. It is a subtle feature more to be felt than defined.
It is wise not to be positive in assigning a reason for the division into public and private.
4. Some features of parabolic teaching may be noted:
(1) The same figure may have different applications. Soil is found in five parables. In parable one, the Sower, it means the heart of the individual. In two, three, and four, darnel, spontaneous growth, and mustard tree, it points to the earth as the dwelling-place of men. In parable five, the Treasure, no specific meaning is suggested or needed.
(2) Different figures may have the same meaning. Sons of the kingdom and good fish are one, as are darnel and bad fish. Gamer for wheat and vessels for fish have one meaning. The corrupters are darnel when viewed individually, but corporately are a woman. This variation carries two lessons:
(a) each figure contributes its own sense and completes the rest;
(b) that diverse figures are used, such as garner and vessels, bespeaks caution in defining the reality.