Page images
PDF
EPUB

yet appeared. But the fact, that, when the King appeared, his kingdom, which was the earnest expectation of his subjects, nevertheless appeared not, nor hath yet appeared; but that something widely different from it did appear, and doth still appear, in its stead; furnishes the solution of the enigma in question. For the things whereto the kingdom of heaven is likened in the parables, are by no means like to it; nor does what they signify, signify it; but rather something which, seen in its stead, obstructs and especially hides that kingdom which had otherwise been apparent. Therefore, as a man is like, and may fairly be likened, for the time being, to any thing represented by a mask which he wears, though this can with no propriety be said to be like to him; so is the kingdom of heaven, in the Parables, likened to such and such things as are like to no kingdom whatever, and least of all to the kingdom of heaven. A simple illustration of this matter is afforded by a passage in the history of our land. Our Alfred, while wandering in his abasement, unknown to the majority of his subjects, might certainly be conceived to have spoken parables to those around him, concerning the kingdom of Alfred, very analogous to those which the King of all the earth spoke concerning his kingdom. If considered attentively, there is a remarkable analogy in the cases, which will shew the propriety of the above remarks.

But I hasten to offer a few observations on the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, which contains several short parables, the interpretation of which, with one exception, is generally thought satisfactorily determined.

Of the parable of the Sower I can say nothing which admits of corroboration in this paper; but must leave the reader to judge whether, in the course of the interpretations which I shall hereafter offer, what is here said be not fully justified. It will be remembered, that the disciples, understanding not the meaning of this discourse, drew forth from the Lord a remarkable expression : “And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable ? and how then will ye know all parables?" Now what should this expression imply, but one of two things—either that this is the easiest of all the parables; or else that, in some way or other, it lies at the root of them all? That the latter is really what is implied, I expect to be able to shew, in due time, by many considerations, and especially a posteriori from the fact that there are three classes succesively implicated in the judgment of the quick; answering very satisfactorily, as I think, to the three great classes of unprofitable hearers, delineated in this parable, while there is a fourth walking in the light and persevering to the end. The main thing, therefore, which I have to suggest just now on the parable of the Sower is, that these classes of hearers are not mere specimens, but severally definite portraits; not a mere sample at random, which might as well have been five-fold as four-fold,

1

but an exact specification, which, as far as the wicked are concerned, indicates a threefold division of the tares in the following parable.

Of the Tares of Wheat the conclusion is all I shall advert to. The tares and the wheat grow together till the end of the dispensation : and our Lord, in his interpretation, at ver. 40, says distinctly, concerning their separation, “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be," &c. And how is this? The husbandman says to the reapers, "Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them” (ad exurendum ea, "for the purpose of burning them”), “but gather ye the wheat into my barn.” Here are three things clearly implied; as follows: 1. The gathering and binding of the tares in bundles ; 2. The gathering of the wheat into the barn; 3. The subsequent burning of the tares. And the careful reader will perceive, that not only does the nature of the similitude require this order, but that the matter is strengthened greatly, instead of being invalidated, by the circumstance that in our Lord's interpretation the gathering into the barn is omitted, and something added, at ver. 43, after the burning of the tares, which has no counterpart in the terms of the parable: “Then shall the righteous shine forth,&c. ; which is most like the wheat being brought out of the barn for the master's service. The same order of events is elsewhere indicated with equal clearness. See Matt. iii. 12: “ Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner ; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." I believe, therefore, that there is in the judgment of the quick this threefold chronological succession : and this, again, I expect

I to shew from the interpretation of the parables concerning the Judgment. Finally, I need hardly add that it is the judgment of the quick solely which is contemplated in the present parable: for it is written,“ Let both grow together till the harvest;" which expression naturally contemplates the living, and not the dead; for the good and evil among the latter, neither grow together nor are together, but between them " there is a great gulf fixed” (Luke xvi. 26).

Of the remaining parables in the chapter I shall speak rather more particularly. “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and hid in his field : which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (vers. 31, 32). In the parable immediately preceding, all men are seeds : therefore there is no reason why one seed here should not mean some particular men. Again: the "field” in the preceding parable is interpreted to mean “ the world ;” and

needed to say,

but a few verses back (ver. 19), we have “the fowls of the air "in. terpreted to mean “the devil.” But the true meaning of this parable is placed beyond doubt by a comparison of Matt. xvii. 20 with 1 Cor. xjii. 2:.“ If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove,”does not mean, as some think, “ If ye have never so little true faith,” &c. otherwise Paul had not

“ If I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains;" but it means, “ If ye have faith as the Son of God.” In all Christian logic, therefore, should not the mustard seed, which is the least of all the seeds, mean in this parable most definitely Jesus Christ, who made himself the least of all men ? And that his field, in which he hid this seed, is the world, for which he died and in which his body, the elect, is hidden, is testified by his own words concerning himself (John xii. 24): "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone : butif it die it bringeth forth much fruit.”OfChrist, therefore, the least of all the seeds, is sprung this greatest of trees, even all professing Christendom: he has become the tree, and we are the branches, among whom the devil has found so much spiritual lodgment.

Another parable spake he unto them. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (ver. 33). The fact that leaven is every where used, both in the Old and New Testament, to signify something evil, is an insuperable objection to the common application of this parable ; to say nothing of the “three measures of meal,” which have scarcely had any plausible meaning assigned to them. If by leaven is meant a piece of dough kept from a former baking, by means of which, when become sour, a new lump is made to swell; then may unleavened bread well imply a state of newness of heart in the children of God, free from all former principles of evil; an entire absence in the church of all that which puffed up and brought to judgment a former dispensation. And in such a sense is the term “ leaven” actually used by Paul, 1 Cor. v. 6: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump. And the like exhortation, to beware of leaven, was given in the beginning to his church by our Lord's own lips; and a similar one to his people of old, in the institution of the Passover when they came out of Egypt. Now, in the parable under consideration, I believe the “woman” to signify the Gentile church, and the "three measures of meal to signify the three classes of unprofitable hearers of whom we have spoken above, in whom she hath hidden the leaven till the whole shall be leavened; whereupon " the day cometh that shall burn as an oven” (Mal. iii. l).' I can shew but slight evidence for this interpretation at present; but just remind the reader that our Lord saw fit to forewarn his Apostles, and through them the whole church, of a threefold operation of leaven : 1. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees; 2. and of the Sadducees (the infidels of that time); 3. and of Herod (the infidel king and personal Antichrist of that time).

These two parables-namely, of the “ Mustard-seed which a man took and hid in his field,” and of the “ Leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal," are commonly understood vaguely to mean the same thing, and that a thing which to us has become a trite historical truth-to wit, that the Gospel from small beginnings hath greatly spread, as we see. But the parables are spoken in conjunction, both here and in Luke; and conjoinedly they teach : 1st, That the pride and malice of the devil should find roost and shelter in and under the fruitless branches of the lofty tree which should spring of the least of the seeds, the despised and lowly Jesus of Nazareth : 2dly, How this fact and evil should arise-namely, by the church, despising its Lord's warning, taking of the old leaven to put into the new lump. That both the parables were a forewarning of evil to come in the church, the occasion on which they were spoken, as recorded by Luke, contributes also to prove. See Luke xiii. 17. “And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed, and all the people (the populace) rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him. Then said he (dirit autem), To what shall I liken the kingdom of heaven ? &c. And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God ?” The glorying of the populace was an apt occasion for these two parables, if the above interpretations be true; for their glorying was not good.

We come now to two other parables spoken in successionnamely, of the “Treasure hid in a field," and of the “Pearl of great price.” And here again, I must suggest the vagueness and inaccuracy of received interpretation. These two parables are not accidentally conjoined; nor does the one, in any respect, convey merely a repetition of the truth taught by the other. The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, which when a man hath found he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (ver. 44). Here “ the field is the world,” and not the Bible: the “ treasure hid in the field” signifies the elect children of the kingdom; which the Man who found it, Jesus Christ, declaring to no one where it lieth, nor how great it is, went, as it was written of him, and for joy thereof offered and gave to the Father all that he had, even himself. For thus much cost him the field, which is the world ; wherein the hidden treasure still VOL. III.-NO. 11,

2T

lieth, until the day in which the Lord “ maketh up his special treasure" (Mal. iii. 17. marg).

I shall add here a remark which I deem important, not only as strengthening conclusively this interpretation, but as illustrative of the minute and wonderful coincidences which occur in Scripture language, not accidentally, but by design, that we may be taught thereby the manifold wisdom of God. The field in this parable, I say, is the world. Now every one knows that mankind, both good and bad, are oftentimes in Scripture likened to potter's clay, and the vessels of a potter. See, for instance, Rom. ix. 20-24; where, and in Isaiah lxiv. 8, God is termed the Potter. Of the righteous it is said, that they shall be “ vessels unto honour, meet for the Master's use(2 Tim. ii. 21): and such are doubtless signified by “ all the vessels of the Lord's house,” which shall “ in that day” be hung upon the " nail fastened in a sure place” (Isai. xxii

. 24). Again, it is said of the wicked, Psalm ii. and elsewhere, that Christ shall “break them in pieces, as the vessels of a potter, in the day of his wrath ;" and again, it is said in Rev. ii. 27, Even as I received of my Father.Without controversy, therefore, the “ field ” of the above parable, which is the world, is this Potter's field : and the parable teaches how it hath become Christ's field; and how thereby he hath received of his father, the Potter, the office to break in pieces all the worthless vessels. Finally, this very fact is testified of, and this interpretation demonstrated, by a remarkable circumstance in the Gospel history. The chief priests, though they knew it not, were made to testify by their own act that the death of Christ had purchased for him the world, when they "took counsel,” and with the very price which they had set upon his head “ bought the potter's field : " for the field is the world, and God is the Potter, and mankind are the vessels ; and of the vein of treasure that lieth in the field shall be all the vessels to honour in the day of the Lord.

But we have yet only the half of this great mystery. “ Again : the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (verses 45, 46). Of which this is the interpretation. The merchantman is God the Father ; the goodly pearls are they who "worship him in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him;" the one Pearl of great price is Jesus Christ; and for him hath the Father given all that he hath : and so is Christ God's, and the world Christ's, by the mutual compact of the Father and the Son detailed in these two parables. To see the consistency of this application of the “ Pearl,” let it be remembered how constantly the same glory is predicated of

« PreviousContinue »