Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1887, by
J. R. GRAVES,
office of the Librarian of Congress, at
COPYRIGHT, 1928, By
BAPTIST SUNDAY SCHOOL COMMITTEE
PRINTED IN THE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PREFACE Page 7
INTRODUCTION. – THE SCHEME OF CHRIST’S
PARABOLIC TEACHINGS, Page 9
THE WHEAT AND THE TARES, Pages 23-30
THE HIDDEN LEAVEN, Pages 33-56
THE MUSTARD TREE AND BIRDS OF THE AIR, Pages 57-66
THE SOWER AND BIRDS OF THE AIR, Pages 67-74
THE LOST SHEEP, Pages 77-91
THE LOST COIN, Pages 92-98
THE TREASURE HID IN A FIELD, Pages 99-103
THE GOOD SHEPHERD, Pages 109-115
THE TWO SONS, Pages 116-119
THE ELDER AND YOUNGER BROTHERS, Pages 120-128
THE LABOURERS AND THE HOURS, Pages 129-133
THE GREAT SUPPER, Pages 134-140
THE WICKED HUSBANDMAN, Pages 141-150
THE BARREN FIG TREE, Pages 151-155
THE IMPORTUNATE NEIGHBOUR, Pages 159-163
THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW, Pages 164-171
THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN, PAGES 172-178
THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT, Pages 179-184
THE UNJUST STEWARD, Pages 187-196
THE RICH MAN WHO WAS A FOOL, Pages 197-203
THE LAW OF BENEVOLENCE -
THE GOOD SAMARITAN, Pages 204-215
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
(HISTORICAL), Pages 216-236
REMARKS INTRODUCTORY, Pages 239-243
THE TEN VIRGINS, Pages 244-271
THE ENTRUSTED TALENTS, Pages 272-284
THE ENTRUSTED POUNDS, Pages 285-292
THE BLADE, THE EAR, AND THE FULL CORN, Pages 292-300
THE NET, Pages 301-311
A SUMMARY OF THE TEACHINGS OF THE PARABLES, Pages 312-317
CHRIST’S LAST GREAT PROPHECY –
THE JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS, Pages 318-327
THE FOUR JUDGMENTS
(BY REV. J. F. KENDALL, D.D.), Pages 329-351
NOTE ON THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN, Page 352
* * *
THESE Expositions are eminently providential. Had their author not been stricken down by a severe and protracted affliction,* they doubtless would never have been written. They were mainly “thought out” to beguile the long, weary months the Author was confined to his bed, the Scriptures being read to him by some member of his family. They were “written out” for his paper in the brief intervals he was able to sit by a table and use a pencil. They are offered to the public in this more permanent form at the urgent request of his patrons and the many friends who had read them in the paper, whose kind partiality he fears has too willingly condoned their many imperfections.
* He received a stroke of paralysis while preaching In the First
The Author’s reasons for Expositions of Our Lord’s Parables; so variant, in so many particulars, from the many already before the public, are fully set forth in the introductory chapter, and if they are not considered satisfactory he can only cast himself upon the leniency of his judges - his readers.
He can truly say these years were spent in Beulah, in almost unalloyed spiritual enjoyment of the “full assurance of hope,” while he rested on the sunlit river of death for the hourly expected summons to pass over.
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CHRIST’S PARABOLIC TEACHINGS
FROM a careful study of the parabolic and prophetic teachings of Christ, I am convinced that He designed to unfold to the understanding of His disciples the whole scheme of His redemption, from its inception onward through all its progressive stages and its mysteries (Mark 4: 11), as connected with His visible “kingdom of heaven on earth,” until its glorious consummation at the end of the age.
We would therefore naturally expect to meet with a parable introductory to all that are to follow, revealing to His disciples how evil was introduced into the world, through the baneful influences of which, His original design in creating the world and the human race seems to have been thwarted, and universal ruin and wreck following as a natural consequence. Following this revelation we would naturally look for parables illustrating His redemptive work in seeking the recovery of a lost world and a lost race - the comprehensiveness of His redeeming work - whether it [Page 10] extended to one race or nation or embracing all races and all nations. If the malignant opposition of Satan is to be continued until the end of the Gospel Ages to obstruct the progress of this merciful work, we should expect that the character of his subtle machinations and the extent of them would be also illustrated in His parabolic teachings.
And, then, the Jewish nation, having been for four thousand years God’s peculiar people, the possessors of all the covenants and the promises, we should expect He would instruct His disciples the attitude this ancient people would assume towards the newly-organized kingdom of Christ and His purposes with reference to them.
If this is a correct scheme of Christ’s parabolic teachings, it certainly would not be complete without a full development of His final dealings with His friends and His foes - the ultimate rewards of the one and the destiny of the other party, and the ultimate destiny of this once fair and beautiful, but now wrecked and ruined, earth.
Now, all these features of His gracious work in connection with His earthly kingdom are fully illustrated by the parables and prophecies he delivered to His disciples; and, as we have no certain clue to the order in which He delivered them, I shall explain them topically, classifying them in the order indicated above.
Remarks on Parabolic Interpretation
Many readers stumble at the opening comparisons of the parables, under the impression that they must find a likeness in “the kingdom of heaven” to the first person or object mentioned in the parable, while in most cases there is no comparison intended; but we must seek the proper “likeness” between the principal features of the parable and one or more of the particular phases in the administration of “the kingdom of heaven,” and sometimes the likeness is to be sought between the administration of the kingdom and the whole parable. I submit the remarks of Dr. Broadus in his comments on “The Net:”
“The opening verbal comparison of the several parables is not uniform and essential to the meaning, but incidental and varying. In Matt. 5: 5, the kingdom of heaven is like a man seeking pearls, but in verse 44 it is compared not to the finder, but to the thing found. In verse 24 it is like the owner of a field, i.e. the Messiah (5: 37), but in verse 47 it is compared not to the owner of the net, but to the net. So, in 22: 2, the kingdom of heaven is likened to the king, who gave a marriage feast for his son, but in verse 25 it is likened not to the bridegroom, but to the virgins who desired to attend the feast. These and other examples show that our Lord does not in each case carefully assert a special relation between the Messianic reign and this or that particular object in the parable, but means to say that something is true of the Messianic reign which resembles the case in the parable; and, instead of speaking in vague terms of general comparison (as in 25: 14), He often sets out by saying that the kingdom of heaven is like some leading person or object of the story, or some feature that readily presents itself at the beginning. (Comp. Matt. 11: 16.) In this parable (i.e. of The Net), then, we are not at liberty to lay any stress upon the comparison of the kingdom of heaven to the net itself. The comparison is to the whole story, and its particular point is given by our Lord himself in verse 49.” - Commentary on Matthew.
The author, after more than three years of patient study of the prophetic Scriptures since writing “The Seven Dispensations,” has modified his views set forth in that work touching two questions, viz.: 1. Will all Christians of all ages compose the Bride of Christ? and (2) will all Christians at the advent of Christ be “caught away to meet Him in the air?” He is now thoroughly satisfied that these questions should be answered in the negative, and his reasons will be apparent to all who examine his expositions of The Virgins, The Talents, and The Pounds. It has been said, “A wise man by investigation sometimes changes his opinion, but a fool never.”
If this production of a mind impaired and a body enfeebled by disease, and prepared for the press in the midst of pains and great weariness of the flesh, should prove acceptable to his brethren, stimulating them in studying and aiding them in the better understanding of the parabolic teachings of Christ, and in any respect contribute to prepare them for His glorious appearing, the author will feel that two years of his life of confinement have not been passed in vain.
SOME REASONS FOR OFFERING THESE NEW EXPOSITIONS OF THE PARABLES OF CHRIST TO THE PUBLIC
It is my conviction that no part of the word of God, unless it be the prophecies, has been more generally misinterpreted by commentators, and therefore misunderstood by the people, than the parables of Christ. Most of them have been interpreted, by even Calvinistic writers, to teach that salvation, or the kingdom of [Page 13] heaven and its righteousness, can and must be purchased by the personal merits or endeavours of the sinner himself. Examine the current expositions of the “Hid Treasure,” of the “Costly Pearl,” and “The Labourers,” etc. We are told that the treasure, as well as the pearl, is salvation, or the blessings connected with the kingdom of heaven; and the sinner must not only diligently seek to find, but to sell all and PURCHASE it. So, by the Parable of the “Vineyard Labourers,” we are taught that sinners, some young, some old, enter the vineyard - the service of God - and all work for the same reward, i.e. salvation, as the price of their work! Take even Christ’s statement in Matt. 11: 12. It is universally interpreted as teaching that the sinner can and must obtain the blessings of the kingdom of heaven as the result or reward of his own intense personal exertions; while everywhere in God’s word it is taught and emphasized that it is Christ himself who came to seek and to save the lost, and that salvation is of God’s free grace through Christ, and that “not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Certainly all Christians who believe that salvation is by grace, without works or deeds of law, will agree with me that such interpretations are exceedingly pernicious, because subversive of the fundamental principles of Christianity, and lead the sinner away from instead of to Christ. It is a constant and surpassing wonder that Calvinistic expositors construe so many of the parables to the support of Arminianism, and make them teach that a child of God may, by an act of simple improvidence (as in the case of the improvident virgins), or slothfulness (as in the [Page 14] case of the slothful servant, in the Parable of the Talents and the Pounds), be finally lost.
I think Christ designed to teach and illustrate by His parables the great fundamental facts that underlie the covenant of redemption, and His dispensational work in the administration of His government, and His dealings with sin, until He has consummated His work in righteousness at the end of the coming or Millennial Age.
While some of His parables had, without doubt, application to His hearers, and were spoken for their personal instruction in righteousness, yet we know the principal ones were pregnant with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven for the instruction of His disciples, and all who, with honesty of heart, desired to be instructed. Christ himself declared this:
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” - Matt. 13: 11.
And one of the greatest mysteries of the administration of the kingdom of Christ,* Paul tells us, was that in the fulness of time the Gentiles were to be made partakers and fellow-heirs, with the Jews, of God’s grace in Christ Jesus:
[* See Rev. 3: 21. The
“How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.”- Eph. 3: 3.
From this standpoint, we see the introduction of Sin into the world, and the world lost through sin, and Christ’s long forbearance with a race of sinners, illustrated by the Parable of the Tares; and from it we learn that sinners will abound in the earth, and oppress the good until the day of judgment, when they will be judged, and the earth purged of them and made the glorious abode of the righteous only.
In the Parables of the Wandering Sheep and the Lost Coin we see illustrated God’s love, not only for a lost sinner, and the lost of the house of Israel, but for a lost world, and the amazing, self-sacrificing, seeking love of Christ in leaving all that He might seek and save it, and return it in sweet subjection to the possession and government of the Father. (See 1 Cor. 15: 24-29.) And in the Parables of the Hid Treasure and the Costly Pearl, what it cost Him to purchase the salvation of His people, and the redemption of a lost world.
In the Parable of the Labourers we are taught the sovereignty of God, coupled with His goodness, in calling the nations by His gospel, at different periods, to enter His service, in connection with the Jews. And we also see in this, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the deep-seated prejudice and envy of the Jews in seeing God’s favour extended to the Gentiles as well as to themselves. Our readers are aware that this parable is universally interpreted to illustrate either the conversion of a profligate sinner, or the restoration of a backslidden Christian to the divine favour. But the trouble has ever been to say whom the elder brother represented; for he is and ever will be quite as important a personage as the younger son. Christians rejoice with “exceeding great joy” when they witness [Page 16] the conversion of a sinner, however old he may be, or however wicked he may have been; and equally so in witnessing the restoration of a backslidden Christian. Neither of these interpretations will do.
From the Parable of the Hidden
Leaven we see the disastrous effect of the introduction of false teachings into
the doctrine of Christ, which is the bread of life, or into a
That the Parables of the Rented Vineyard (Matt. 21: 33), the Great Supper (Luke 16: 16), the Barren Tree and the Cursed Fig Tree, generally interpreted as applicable to sinners or barren Christians, will be found to refer solely to the Jewish nation, and God’s dealings with it. The Pharisees saw and felt their force when Christ delivered them, and yet these have been and indeed are generally applied to individual sinners!
I have intimated enough to convince the intelligent reader that the parables of Christ demand new and different interpretations, if it is necessary that their teachings should accord with the other plain and unfigurative teachings of Christ.
The candid reader will agree with me that the parables of Christ, if rightly interpreted, will not conflict with the unfigurative teachings of Christ and His apostles. Of this I am confident, however widely my interpretations may differ from those now before the public, they will be found by all students of God’s word in perfect harmony with the plain, unfigurative teachings of the Scriptures. This certainly will be a great gain over the commonly received interpretations of the parables and prophecies of Christ.
I only ask an impartial reading of these Expositions by all Bible students.
* * *
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A PARABLE ILLUSTRATING
THE INTRODUCTION OF EVIL
INTO THE WORLD
THE WHEAT-FIELD OVERSOWN BY THE ENEMY - SATAN.
THE PARABLE OF
THE WHEAT AND TARES
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THE WHEAT AND THETARES
IN ENTERING upon the exposition of the parables of Christ, it is important for the reader to bear in mind that he is not to seek for the likeness of the kingdom of heaven in the character or peculiar, quality of the immediate subject of the narrative; as, for example, in the man who sowed the good seed, or in a mustard seed, in the hid treasure, the lost coin, in leaven, or a fishing net, although it is said the kingdom of heaven is like a man - like a mustard seed - like a treasure hid - like leaven - like a drag net, and like ten virgins.
“Unto a man.” The Messianic reign resembles not simply a man who sowed, but the parable as a whole; the comparison is simply affirmed here and elsewhere with reference to the leading personage of the story or the object it is natural to mention. First comp. [Matt.] 5: 44, 45, 47; 18: 23; 20: 1; 25: 1. - Broadus’ Commentary in loco.
From the interpretation of Christ himself we must learn to interpret; and from Him we learn that He designed to illustrate some one or more of the great and important truths which He called “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” connected with the administration of His mediatorial kingdom on earth by the principle features of His parables. We are therefore not to attempt to find something in His kingdom to [Page 24] correspond with everything related in the narrative. Some things are thrown in to round out - to make the relation or allegory more life-like and striking; as, while men slept the enemy sowed tares, or the number ten in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, etc.
I will commence with the Parable of the Tares, said to be the most difficult of all the parables.
THIS IS A HISTORICO-PROPHETICAL PARABLE ILLUSTRATING THE INTRODUCTION OF EVIL INTO THE WORLD, AND THAT THE EVIL DONE BY SATAN AND EVIL-DOERS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE TOLERATED, BUT FINALLY THEY WILL BE PUNISHED, AND THE EVIL RECTIFIED.
THE PARABLE - NO. 1
“Another parable He put forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.” - Matt. 13: 24-30.
This parable is called by expositors one of the most difficult of all the parables of Christ; this too in the face of Christ’s own explanation of it.* I have studied [Page 25] the various interpretations, and am fully convinced that the whole difficulty arises from the determination of writers to force it to teach what Christ never intended it to teach, and to contradict what He did teach; i.e. making the field to symbolize the kingdom or “the church”(?) of Christ on earth, when Christ explicitly tells us that the field represents the world.
* “This is one of the most difficult in the whole series of our Lord’s parables. As Luther remarks, it appears very simple and easy to understand, especially as the Lord himself has explained it, and told us what the field and the good seed and the tares are; but there is such a diversity of opinion among interpreters that much attention is needed to hit the right meaning.” - DR. BRUCE.
“He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man; and the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; [or age, that closes with the final judgment.] The reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of the [that age] world. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears let him hear.”
Sower, The Son of
Good seed; wheat, Sons of the kingdom; sinless persons.
The field, The world.
The enemy, The Evil One; the Devil.
Tares, Sons of the Wicked One.
Harvest, The end of the age.
The reapers, The angels of God.
Barn, Eternal felicity.
This parable, so replete with rich and important [Page 26] truths relating to the administration of the kingdom of Christ, all expositors connected with State churches, and those who follow their leading, unite in wresting by interpretation in the support of those false churches, by teaching that the field is the visible State church, in which the notoriously bad must be allowed to grow without disturbance by healthy discipline, thus using God’s word to defend corrupt churches and to keep manifestly wicked men in the church. Christ explicitly declares that the field is the world, and not the church, which he everywhere commands his servants to keep pure by the prompt expulsion of all classes of evil men.
Christ originally sowed this world with good seed - His own children, formed in His own image, which He pronounced “good.” Pure and sinless were our first parents in their first estate; and in a beautiful and fertile field were they placed, in which there was not a noxious weed or a tare. It was Satan, that old enemy, the devil, who oversowed this beautiful world with tares, from whence his children and servants like unto himself. So thickly has he succeeded in seeding the field with tares that, to all human appearances, they must evidently choke and shade out the wheat. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, and they appropriate to themselves the largest and best part of the field, and materially disturb the increase and well-being of the children of the kingdom, and even threaten to destroy them from the face of the earth.
WHAT WE LEARN
1. We learn that the devil is a person, and not a mere abstract principle of evil. No man who believes [Page 27] that Christ is a real personality can reasonably question the personality of the devil.
2. And we learn that, how numerous soever his demon evil spirits may be, there is but one devil.
3. We learn from this parable the wonderful long-suffering and forbearance of God in permitting the tares to grow up with the wheat. Worldly wisdom would dictate that the tares should be rooted up as fast as they appear, and that a pure and holy God should not suffer wicked men, “the children of the wicked one,” to overbear His own children and overrun the earth to their unhappiness and detriment; but -
4. We learn that it is only for a season that the wicked are allowed to dominate this earth. The Psalmist says:
seen the wicked in great power, and spreading
himself like a
The interpreters in Luther’s day all belonged to State churches, and they interpreted in the interest of those churches. i.e. that the church should include the entire population of the State, and they therefore interpreted the field in the parable to symbolize the church.
5. We learn that God denies to
the children of the kingdom the use of force, oppression or persecution. Christian rulers are forbidden the use
of the sword or force to extirpate
heretics. While the
churches of Christ must be kept pure, the wicked must be permitted to exist in
the world, since the attempt to forcibly root
them out of it now would break up the foundations of society and destroy the
6. We learn, also, that the world is not to be converted by the children of the kingdom, through the preaching of the gospel, and thus cleared of the taxes, before the second coming of Christ, as post-millennialists teach, for the tares are to retain their hold and grow until the close of the harvest age - until the final judgment.
7. We learn from this that it is not required of the churches in this age to convert the world. This is not their mission, but to preach the gospel “as a witness” among all nations, and thus prepare the way for the coming of their Lord. It will be His work to separate, through the agency of His angels. It is then that the words of His herald will be fulfilled:
“Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing-floor, separate the tares from the wheat, gather His wheat into the garner, and burn up the chaff (tares) in unquenchable fire.”
8. We learn that wicked men will exist and abound upon this earth not only during all of this dispensation, but through all the thousand years of the millennial age. Only the incorrigibly wicked - those who have had the gospel offered to them and rejected it, like the rebellious Israelites who fell in the desert - and those nations that have persecuted the saints, will be destroyed at the coming of Christ. All the “sheep” nations - the inoffensive and non-persecuting nations, will be preserved to enjoy the brighter age to come; and over these in the flesh will the saints reign with Christ for a thousand years; and from these nations will that vast multitude be saved “which no man can number [count].”
9. We learn that ultimately, at the close of the [Page 29] harvest age, Christ will thoroughly cleanse His floor. He will send forth His angels and exterminate the tares, root and branch, out of His field, and burn them. They will never more be permitted to infest it. And the earth, thus cleansed, will forever be occupied by His people alone. Read, in connection with this, Psalm 37. and Rev. 21. and 22. When Christ shall have fully consummated His work, and the world (His field) has been redeemed from all the evils wrought by His enemy, and be fully and safely occupied by His redeemed ones, then will He deliver up His sceptre to the Father, and then will the Father’s kingdom come, as Christ taught His disciples to pray, when His Father’s will will be done in all the earth as it is done in heaven; and then we know this earth will be a heaven.
“Then shall the righteous shine forth m the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear let him hear.” - Matt. 13: 43.
This is a historical parable, because Christ gives us the history of the introduction of evil into this world, and tells by whose agency evil was introduced, and that it is by His all-wise purpose that evil and evil-doers have been allowed to exist on the earth.
“Evil in the human race owes its origin to Satan.” “As to the reasons why God permitted its original appearance in the universe speculation has scarcely proven satisfactory, and Scripture is silent.” – Broadus’ Commentary in loco.
It is prophetical, because Christ foretells that the children of the wicked one (sinners) will exist upon this earth and dominate over the righteous until the [Page 30] end of the harvest age. Finally He foretells the final separation of the wicked from the righteous, and the fearful, but deserved, doom of the wicked. This interpretation certainly harmonizes with all the other teachings of Christ and His apostles touching the administration of His kingdom on this earth, and the transactions of the final judgment. It certainly teaches, beyond reasonable doubt, the pre-millennial advent of Christ - i.e. the coming of Christ before the conversion and subjugation of the world to Him, since the tares will possess the field until He comes, and His first act will be to root them out and destroy them. (Rev. 14.)
On this point says Dr. Broadus:
“We learn here that good and bad will both be found intermingled in the world until the consummation of the present age, at the second coming of Christ, which seems quite contrary to the notion of a previous millennium, during which all men, without exception, will be faultless Christians.” - Commentary in loco.
* * *
WILES AND MACHINATIONS
SATAN WOULD EMPLOY TO OBSTRUCT
1. THE LEAVEN HIDDEN.
2. THE MUSTARD TREE AND BIRDS OF THE AIR.
3. THE SOWER AND BIRDS OF THE AIR.
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CHRIST undoubtedly, by the parable of the wheat oversown by tares, taught His disciples the agency (Satanic) and the manner (stealthily) by which evil was originally introduced into this world; and by the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Hidden Treasure, He illustrated the compassionate love that moved Him to undertake, and the infinite sacrifice it cost Him to achieve, the redemption of His people, and the restoration of a lost and ruined world to its primitive perfectness and loveliness as the eternal home and heaven of the joint heirs of His glory and inheritance.
From this first revelation we are certainly warranted in the conclusion that through the machinations of His great adversary, who oversowed the field with tares, a corrupting element, or agency, would be stealthily infused into the saving doctrine of man’s salvation, “the bread of life,” to corrupt and destroy it, and enemies introduced into the constituencies of His kingdom to subvert rather than friends to conserve it, and are certainly warranted in concluding that by parables He would also indicate these facts, so that His disciples in after ages might not be overtaken by surprise or overwhelmed by discouragement when they saw their Master’s work seemingly thwarted and frustrated in their hands. This fact - i.e. the subsequent corruption of His doctrine of life and the [Page 34] gospel of our salvation by the influence of soul-destroying error, and the introduction of evil men and seducers into the constituencies of His kingdom - I think He has unquestionably set forth by the parables of the leaven hid in the meal, and the fowls of the air lodging in the branches of the mustard tree.
With this introduction I address myself to the exposition of these parables.
THE HIDDEN LEAVEN
ILLUSTRATING THE UNIVERSAL CORRUPTION OF THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST BY
THE INJECTION OF FALSE DOCTRINE INTO IT BY A CORRUPT CHURCH.
Leaven False doctrine.
Woman (pure), A true church.
Woman (vile), A false church.
To hide, To surreptitiously introduce.
Meal, The saving truth‑the doctrine of Christ.
Wholly leavened, Wholly corrupted.
“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.” - Matt. 13: 33.
The principal features of this parable are:
1. The three measures, or one ephah, of meal.
2. The leaven.
3. A woman hiding it.
4. The effect upon the meal.
Commentators, so far as my information extends, most unanimously misinterpret this parable, teaching that the meal symbolizes this world - the whole mass of depraved humanity - and the leaven symbolizes the gospel, which, once planted in it, like leaven in the meal, will work irresistibly and silently on and on, permeating and assimilating it thoroughly to itself, until the whole world is leavened, i.e. Christianized.
Accepting this glaring misinterpretation of the parable, men who address our great missionary conventions and convocations urge it upon Christians, as the most potent motive to plant the gospel in heathen lands, because Christ teaches us that it is the appointed mission of the church to convert the whole world by the gospel, and that this parable contains the promise that the whole world shall be finally Christianized, brought under sweet subjection to Christ, by the hallowed influence of the gospel. If Christ taught this in this parable, then He contradicted what He taught in His other parables and everywhere else in the New Testament. The wheat did not crowd out or assimilate all the tares to itself, and occupy the whole field, but the tares held their place, to the injury of the wheat, until the harvest - the final judgment. (See exposition of the tares.) He also contradicts all of His own plain, unfigurative teaching concerning the state of the world at the close of this present gospel dispensation. In Matt. 24: 37, He declares most explicitly that what the state of society was in the days of Noah it will be at His second coming, thus teaching that the whole world, with comparatively few exceptions, will have become thoroughly corrupted, and be in a state of open-handed rebellion to God; [Page 36] and when Christ comes it will be to “render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire.” See also Matt. 25., where the goat nations are to be judged and punished at the second coming of Christ. He also plainly contradicts the express teaching of the Holy Ghost:
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience scared with a hot iron.” - 1Tim. 4: 1, 2.
He also flatly contradicts the teaching of His holy apostles:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. From such turn away.” - 2Tim. 3: 1-5.
And He contradicts His last revelation to His servant John. See and read Rev. 19.
What Christ did teach by this parable we can ascertain, if we give to the symbols Christ employed the same signification they manifestly have in all His other teachings, and in sacred Scriptures universally. No one can reasonably object to this. Let us do this.
The meal. This term is interpreted to symbolize human hearts - the whole mass of depraved humanity - the world; but it is nowhere else in God’s word so used, but to represent saving truth. Meal, of which bread is made, is called the staff of our temporal life [Page 37] throughout the Scriptures. Christ called himself “the bread of life,” the “true bread which cometh down from heaven.” Of His words (doctrine) He said: “The words I have spoken unto you are spirit, and they are life.” These words, this doctrine, corrupted and vitiated, must be but the savour of death.
The ephah (three measures) of meal, the usual quantity used for a baking, then, do not symbolize the world - the three divisions of the then known world - the whole mass of depraved humanity - as some teach - but saving truth - “the doctrine of Christ” - “the gospel of salvation.”
Leaven in this parable must certainly symbolize what it invariably represents elsewhere throughout the sacred writings - false doctrine, and anything that is unholy and corrupting in its nature, since it is the property of leaven to assimilate a mass of kneaded meal, or flour, however large, to itself by corrupting it. Why should its use in this one passage be so unlike and opposite to its use in every other passage in God’s word?
It is urged that Christ expressly said it is “the kingdom of heaven” that is like leaven. The objection is not tenable; for He says, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man,” and “is like unto a merchant,” and “a treasure hid,” “a net,” “a mustard seed,” “a woman,” “a king,” “a householder,” etc. The meaning is that there are facts in connection with the administration of Christ’s visible kingdom on earth illustrated by one or more of the features of the parable used - this and nothing more. (See remarks on parabolic interpretation in Chapter 1.)
The invariable use of the term leaven by Christ [Page 38] elsewhere, and of His apostles everywhere, to denote something vile and unholy in principle or doctrine, that is corrupting, certainly forbids its being used here to represent something pure and holy, as the pure gospel of Christ- as Christ’s church. Nowhere else, if it is here, is anything vile, impure, corrupting, used to represent that which is pure and holy; and I can not believe it is here. This is an invariable rule unless this be an exception. And why should it be forced in as an exception here, when to do so would put a palpable untruth in the lips of Christ; in fact, would be to make Him contradict what both He and the Holy Spirit have taught everywhere else? In the first parable He addressed to the people in this connection, He taught them that the field which He sowed with good seed was oversown by the enemy with tares, which worked injury and almost ruin to His crop, and that they continued to do so to the end of the world. Would He be likely to teach the very opposite in this parable?
Christ nowhere else teaches that
His kingdom, in this dispensation, will continue to increase until it
assimilates all things to itself - that Christianity will spread until the
whole world is converted to Him; but far otherwise. This dispensation closes
with the “whole world wondering after the beast”
under the influence of the antichrist. He foretold that His followers
would be persecuted to the end of this
age; that “evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse;” that
abounding iniquity and the love of many growing cold were sure signs of the last
times; that brazen-faced impiety and arrogant skepticism would unblushingly
lift their heads and demand:[Page 39] “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers
fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning.” In a word, Christ declared that as it was in
the days of Noah, just before the flood, so would the coming of the Son of Man
be. Did the preaching of Noah convert
the world? If not, are we authorized by
Christ’s declaration to believe the Christianity preached by ministers of this
age will be able to do it? Christianity
was planted in the city of
Leaven, put into a mass of meal, leavens it - assimilates it to itself by corrupting it: so false doctrine, intermixed with the soul-saving doctrine of Christ, corrupts and destroys it.
Will the reader notice what leaven is everywhere else used to represent, and how Christians are warned to treat it?
“Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever [Page 40] eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from
“No meat offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven; for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire.” - Lev. 2: 11.
“Then Jesus said tinto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” - Matt. 16: 6.
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” - Luke 12: 1.
“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, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Cor. 5: 6-8.
* Should not leavened bread be banished from the Lord’s table, symbolizing as it does something impure and vile - a man’s works? If its presence would have vitiated a sin-offering or the passover, will it not the Lord’s supper? The Lord used unleavened bread.
Will any one say that Paul intended to teach that a little Christianity planted in the world would Christianize the whole mass?
If Christ used leaven to represent the working of His gospel-saving truth - He used a contradictious figure - a figure that contradicted an established fact. It is not the province of truth to irresistibly work on, correcting error and permeating corruption, and assimilating it to itself, but, when brought in contact with error or untruth, it is ever tainted and corrupted by it. A sound apple, placed in a barrel of rotten ones, will not correct their unsoundness, nor will a healthy man, introduced into a hospital filled with patients dying with smallpox, restore them all to health; but the [Page 41] sound apple will soon become rotten, and the healthy man infected with the contagious disease. On the contrary, place one rotten apple in a barrel or bin of sound ones, and it, like leaven, will infect all; and one case of smallpox, if left to itself, will infect a whole city. Truth is an exotic, and can only exist and grow by the most assiduous cultivation.
A handful of wheat or corn sown in a well ploughed field, if left to itself, will soon die out, being overshadowed and choked by the grass and noxious weeds, and not a kernel would be harvested; but lo! if a handful of cockle seed or coco-grass nuts be sowed, ere long the whole field will be overrun and irredeemably ruined by the coco. So with truth and error. Deadly error is indigenous to the soil of carnal hearts, like coco-grass to the natural soil, and will, without the least cultivation, take full and ineradicable possession of humanity, while saving truth, like an exotic flower, without the most careful and constant cultivation, will be overshadowed and die.
Christ never used leaven to symbolize saving truth - the vile and corrupting to represent His pure and holy gospel.
If leaven symbolizes the gospel, or Christianity, then the woman must symbolize the agent or the agencies that first introduced, and are now introducing and infusing, it into the world - Christ and His apostles, and Christians, operating through the true churches of Christ! But this woman evidently symbolizes an enemy, and not a friend. And the leaven was introduced with an inimical intent: for it was not done openly, as the gospel was preached by Christ and His apostles, but was “hid” - stealthily and [Page 42] surreptitiously introduced into the meal, as not the right thing to do - as something not belonging to the meal, but calculated to injure and destroy it. How very like the enemy who sowed the tares among the wheat while the men slept! And, as the tares could not be detected until they had somewhat grown, so could not the presence of the leaven until its corrupting effects were observed.
Woman, throughout the Scriptures, with but one solitary exception, where it represents Christ himself, is used to symbolize a professed church and people of God. A chaste wife, a pure woman, everywhere a pure church, while an adulterous or meretricious and vile woman, the opposite.
The deeper significancy than that upon the surface of this parable, without a doubt in my mind, points to an apostate church, the very “Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth,” secretly hiding – insinuating - the leaven of her false doctrines into the doctrine of Christ, and thus corrupting the faith of the largest part of the professed Christian world. It is charged against this mother of all corruptions (Rev. 17: 2) that she made the “inhabitants of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornication” - deceived and bewildered them to their ruin by the subtlety of her false doctrines. This is the very work the apostate Roman church has done. She has “hid” – infused - the leaven of her false and abominable doctrines into the doctrine of Christ, which she once received pure, and has thoroughly leavened it; and the faith received from her by all Protestant communions is corrupted by the infusion of her deadly leaven, as the communication of saying grace through [Page 43] the ordinances, called by them “sacraments.” Hence the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and salvation and all its attendant evils. And if there is a word of prophecy couched in this parable we may safely conclude that the world, with the exception of “the witnesses of Jesus,” will be ultimately leavened by her false doctrines, until the whole is leavened. Do we not read of the last times, “And the whole world wondered after the beast?” (Rev. 13: 3.)
Let any intelligent Christian examine the creeds of the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist and Campbellite denominations and say if, by strictly following their teachings, a soul could be saved. They one and all make baptism a sacrament of the remission of sins - of regeneration, and therefore of salvation. This is the leaven the woman hid in the meal.
Does leaven, in this parable, mean the permeating power of the gospel or rather the diffusive tendency of false doctrine? I accept the latter alternative, and proceed to give reasons.
Before doing this, however, suppose we admit for a moment the other alternative - that leaven means the gospel pervading “the mass of humanity” “until the whole is leavened.” The mass of humanity can be leavened only as the individuals are thus wrought upon. But it is a fact that no individual of the race is wholly leavened with the gospel. Every Christian has two natures - the human and the divine - but the divine nature never leavens the human nature. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and never becomes anything but flesh. The Holy Ghost never sanctifies the flesh. We are to “crucify the flesh with the passions and lusts.” Now if no individual is ever [Page 44] leavened, so to speak, by the gospel, no aggregation of individuals is thus leavened. Hence, if this interpretation is not true of any one of the parts, it is not true of the whole.
There are eight reasons in my mind for interpreting this parable to mean the final and universal prevalence of false doctrine.
1. My first argument is based on the meaning of the word leaven. It comes from the Hebrew word seor, the Greek gume, the Latin fermentum, and the English leaven from levare. The Hebrew word seor has the radical sense of effervescence or fermentation, and therefore corresponds in point of etymology with the Greek word gume and the Latin fermentum. There is also another Hebrew word, kahmetz, which signifies fermented or leavened; literally, sharpened bread. Both Hebrew words are synonymous, being used for the same object, the only difference being that kahmetz has a more general signification, so as to he applicable to both kinds of fermentation - vinous and acetous. The Greek word gume, corresponding to the Hebrew seor, Dr. Robinson defines in its metaphorical sense to be “anything which tends to corrupt and pervert any one; for example, false doctrine or corrupt conduct.” The corresponding Latin word fermentum was applied by Tacitus and Prudentius “to the manners and conduct of the people as being corrupt and bad.”
It is instructive to show what the opposite term, unleavened, means. The Hebrew word is matzzoth, signifying sweetness or purity. In Ex. 13: 7, we have these three Hebrew words in juxtaposition: “Unleavened bread (matzzoth) shall be eaten seven [Page 45] days; and there shall be no leavened bread (kahmetz) seen with thee, neither shall there he leaven (seor) seen with thee in all thy quarters.”
Webster says, “Leaven is any substance that produces fermentation, as in
dough; anything that makes a general, especially a corrupting, change in
With this weight of authority from Hebrew, Greek, Latin and English lexicographers as to the very meaning of the word leaven, I do not see how any man can speak of it as a symbol of the gospel.
2. My second argument is based upon the use of the term in the Old and New Testaments. I unhesitatingly affirm that there is not a passage in the Bible which uses the word leaven in a good sense - it is always the symbol of corruption. Not only was its use forbidden at the Passover, but its very presence was prohibited. So imperative was this command that he who violated it was cut off from all civil and religious rights, if not from life itself. The Passover was a type of Christ, who was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners; and hence unleavened bread, the symbol of purity, sincerity and truth, must be used, and no leaven whatever. There are two passages in the Old Testament which seem to form an exception, but they not only confirm the rule, but establish the law that leaven always means evil. In [Page 46] Lev. 23: 17, two wave loaves are commanded to be baked with leaven. These two wave loaves baked with leaven, and offered on the Day of Pentecost, were obvious types of the church composed of Jew and Gentile, but having evil in it, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles. Hence a sin-offering was presented with two leavened loaves. There was nothing spotless and pure to be symbolized here, but rather the depraved and human, and hence leaven was used, which confirms the rule - yea, more, it establishes the law - that leaven always represents corruption.
Notwithstanding their offering
of thanksgiving, the leaven of ungodliness and idolatry was already working in
the heart of
Turning now to the New Testament, we find Christ saying, “Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” By this He meant the “doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” There was the leaven of Herod - legality; the leaven of the Sadducees - worldliness; and the leaven of the [Page 47] Pharisees - ritualism. We never read of the leaven of the gospel and righteousness, but we do read of “leaven of malice and wickedness.” We never read of the leaven of the saints, which is sincerity, but we do read of “the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” We never read that leaven means good; it always means evil.
Now it is a sound principle of interpretation that we must understand a metaphor which is not explained in the light of a similar metaphor which is explained. In like manner we are to understand the use of the word leaven in this parable, where it is not explained, in the light of the nineteen other passages in the Bible where it is explained. If everywhere in the Old Testament and New Testament leaven is explained to mean corruption, is it not a logical inference that in this unexplained parable it means corruption also? Adam Clark, in commenting on the other passages where leaven occurs, says: “Bad doctrines act in the soul as leaven does in bread: they assimilate the spirit to its own nature.”
Christ well knew that the Pharisee doctrine and the Sadducee doctrine would invade the kingdom of heaven and corrupt the truth; hence the need of His warning - “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
There are only two instances of
the word leaven in the New Testament, aside from the parable under
consideration, and in those passages it means moral corruption also. The first is in 1 Cor. 5:
1-8. The church at
3. My third argument is based upon Christ’s own interpretation of two preceding parables.
We have appealed to lexicographers for the meaning of the word leaven; we have searched the Old Testament and New Testament for the use of the term, and have found it always symbolizes corruption. But suppose we had no dictionary - Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English - suppose we had not consulted the Scriptures outside the chapter where the parable of the leaven is recorded - if Christ’s own interpretation of two preceding parables in the immediate context teaches us that the kingdom of heaven has in it a subtle, mysterious power - corrupting, perverting, and evermore penetrating it with evil - that fact of itself should determine the meaning of leaven in its application to the same formula - “the kingdom of heaven.” Let us also remember Christ is not illustrating the kingdom of heaven so much as certain “mysteries of the kingdom.”
In the Parable of the Sower, three kinds of soil brought forth nothing, and the one-fourth part which did produce anything was hindered by the tares. Now, if leaven means the gospel permeating “the mass of mankind” “until the whole is leavened,” [Page 50] then “the good ground” ought to leaven “the wayside” ground, “stony ground,” and the thorny ground, or else the good seed ought finally to grow on all these unproductive soils. Again, to carry out the analogy, the tares ought to be crowded out by the wheat, whereas it is a fact in natural history that tares grow faster than the wheat, encroaching upon it more and more until the harvest.
To make the leaven mean the gospel permeating mankind is to contradict Christ’s interpretation of the Parables of The Sower and of The Wheat and Tares. One parable can not contradict another.
My interpretation of the leaven harmonizes not only in the preceding parables - that evil is in the kingdom, evermore subverting the good - but it also agrees with the succeeding parables in the same chapter. Take the Parable of the Net for example: “They gathered the good into the vessels, and cast the bad away.” Now, unclean or putrid fishes are not a less befitting illustration of the leavening element than the tares - their characteristic tendency, like that of leaven, being the putrefaction of the whole mass.
Our interpretation corresponds with the explained and unexplained parables of Christ.
4. My fourth argument is based upon the testimony of Christ and His apostles concerning the condition of things at the end of this age. If leaven means the gospel, then “the last days” will be the best days, since the whole world is thus to be leavened. But how does this accord with other Scriptures? The tares and wheat are to grow together until the harvest. The wheat is not to root out the tares. If the whole “mass of humanity” is thus to be leavened by the gospel, [Page 51] there will be nothing left to offend. How, then, will Christ, at His coming, “gather out of His kingdom all things which offend and them which do iniquity?” If all men are to be converted at the end of the age, what does Christ mean when He says that at the end of this dispensation He “will render His anger with fury and His rebuke with flames of fire?” Why will He “smite the nations with anger,” and “rule them with a rod of iron?” Why will He “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel,” and “tread them in the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God?” If the whole lump of humanity is to be leavened with the gospel, what is there left for God to destroy in His anger? If all men will finally have faith, what does Christ mean by saying, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find the faith on the* earth?”
[* Note the definite article before the word “faith.” There is a particular “faith,” in a particular truth, referred to here; and it is related to a future, prophetic event. See 1 Pet. 1: 5, 9, 11b, R.V.]
According the theory we oppose “the last days” will be blessed times; but the apostle says: “This know, that in the last days shall come perilous times;” “that there shall come in the last days scoffers,” etc.; “now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith,” etc. All these passages, and many others, absolutely contradict the idea that the whole “mass of humanity” is to be leavened by the gospel in the last days. Instead of Christ being revealed to all men in the last days, “that wicked shall be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy with the brightness of His coming.” The fact is, the last days of this dispensation are to end in fearful apostasy: “The end shall not come except there be a falling away first,” etc.
The interpretation of the leaven which makes it to mean “the gospel permeating the mass of humanity” [Page 52] until the whole is leavened, contradicts the explained and unexplained parables of Christ; it contradicts what Christ and all the apostles foretold concerning the last days. On the other hand, my interpretation harmonizes with all these passages.
5. My fifth argument is based upon the fact that the leaven was hid in three measures of meal. There is something suspicious about that word hid. Are we ever commanded to hide the gospel? Are we commanded to hide our light under a bushel? “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” If the psalmist hid God’s word in his heart, he went and told of it, and so confessed Christ before men. It is said of Christ, “He could not be hid.” Nor can the gospel be hid. “It is like fire shut up in our bones,” it will burn through. “We can but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” This does not look much like hiding the gospel in the world. The word hid, in connection with the leaven, looks ominous. It looks like the enemy who sowed tares while men slept. It looks like the servant who hid his lord’s money. It looks like the secret, subtle influence of error, which loves darkness rather than light.
But who hid the leaven of corruption in the kingdom? A woman! What woman? The meritorious one, the bride of Christ, or the meretricious one, the Mother of Harlots? Evidently the latter committed the corrupt act, and the former permitted it to spread. A woman hid the leaven! Has this woman ever done any secret, subtle, Jesuitical work in the world? Has she ever corrupted the church with false doctrine? Has she ever worn a mask? Has she ever done any thing by stealth? Do you recognize the woman who [Page 53] took the leaven of corrupt doctrine and hid it in three measures of meal?
6. My sixth argument is based upon the fact that meal is everywhere in the Bible used as a symbol of truth or doctrine. Bread, the staff of life, is a symbol of Christ, and His doctrine the bread of life: “For man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” As leaven is meal soured and corrupted, it would be natural to expect that it would represent corrupt doctrine. Accordingly the disciples understood how He made them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now if the three measures of pure meal represent doctrine as uncorrupted, they can not represent the entire “mass of humanity.” If meal represents doctrine pure and uncontaminated, it can not represent depraved humanity. Now a question arises, Can the doctrine of Christ become corrupted by the leaven of false doctrine? We answer, it is not only possible, but certain, that men “have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.” Men have “changed the truth of God lie.” “They have wrested the Scriptures to their destruction.” The true doctrine has been perverted by its mixture with the leaven of false doctrine. One thing is worse than error, and that is truth mixed with it. Just as men can corrupt God’s pure grain in soil, so can men corrupt the pure word of God.
7. My seventh argument is based upon the fact that three measures do not represent the whole world, and therefore if leaven meant the gospel it would not permeate the whole mass of humanity. Three is never [Page 54] used to represent completeness. Seven is the number for totality. All divine truth will not become corrupted; only that which is allowed to come into the domain of the leaven.
The next Step is from corrupt doctrine to corrupt men who embrace it and live upon it. As the kingdom of heaven does not and will not embrace the whole world in this dispensation, although it certainly will in the next, so the three parts affected by the leaven of perverted doctrine will not embrace the whole world, but only that part where the kingdom of heaven in its present unorganized condition may exist. The leaven will not work in heathenism. Only where the pure doctrine has been preached will it corrupt creeds and men.
The gospel of the kingdom may be preached in the world for a witness, and not reach more than three measures out of seven. The leaven, consisting of three principles - the leaven of Herod, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Sadducees - is fast leavening Christendom to-day, and the whole is destined to be leavened after God’s true people have been caught away. Then comes apostasy and the great tribulations, and then the millennium.
8. My eighth and last argument is based on the fact that the gospel does not work like leaven. This is thought to be the strong point in the interpretation which we antagonize. They say the point of analogy is not in the character of the leaven, but in its silent, gradual and accelerated operation. But this is not true to fact. The gospel never had any such gradual and accelerated movement. It has advanced in one age and retrograded in another. It has become totally [Page 55] extinct in one nation, and has succeeded in another. On the other hand, the pure doctrines of Christ in part have been more and more corrupt from the beginning. Like streams of water, the further they flow from their source the more impure they become.
The time will come when the earth will not have a real Christian left in it, nor a pure doctrine taught from any of its so-called wise men. The whole fabric of professed Christianity will be leavened and corrupted with false teaching. But blessed be God, His true people will be saved out of this tribulation that is to come on the earth!
When men tell us that the gospel works like leaven we reply, the assertion is not true to fact.
When they tell us that “three measures of meal” represent the “whole mass of humanity” it is not true to fact.
When they tell us that such an interpretation is in harmony with Christ’s explained parables, it is not true to fact.
A scientist was once reminded that his theory did not correspond with the facts. “Then,” said he, “so much the worse for the facts.”
We believe our interpretation to be in harmony with all the facts of the Parable of the Leaven and with all other parables and the whole word of God.
The only objection to our interpretation of the Parable of the Leaven comes to us from an old minister in Arkansas, who, in sustaining the current but erroneous idea that the leaven which was hidden in the meal symbolizes the gospel of our salvation, urges the literal language of the parable of Christ – “the kingdom of heaven is like leaven,” etc. The kingdom of heaven [Page 56] is a visible earthly organization, and he can not for the life of him find anything in this organization that is like leaven. To this good brother’s theory, held by him in common with the majority of readers, we submit the very just remarks of a brother editor on the parable of the “drag net,” in answer to one who asks him, if the net does not represent the visible church of Christ, because Christ said “the kingdom of heaven is like a net:” “Those who take that position ought to notice that while, in the present instance, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a net, in the Parable of the Tares it is compared to ‘a man’ who sowed seed; and the true idea is that in neither case is the thing mentioned first as an element in the comparison the real thing to be contemplated in it. In the one case, the important thing is not the man sowing the seed, but the field in which it is sown, and the treatment meted out to the tares at harvest-time; and in the other case, the important thing is not the net, but the discrimination which will finally be made.”
So in this parable the kingdom of heaven is not the important idea designed to be compared, but the corrupting power of leaven in an ephah of meal is compared to the corrupting power of error, or false doctrine, when infused into the saving doctrine of Christ - the gospel of man’s salvation - and prophetically teaches us that a power inimical to Christ would corrupt the pure gospel of Christ by stealthily introducing soul-destroying error into it, until the whole was leavened.
* * *
THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD TREE
AND BIRDS OF THE AIR
THE MUSTARD TREE
THIS is one of the four parables delivered in connection to teach and illustrate the same sad fact - the malignant, subtle and persistent opposition of Satan, the great adversary, to the work Christ undertook to accomplish. In the Parable of the Tares we see how stealthily Satan oversowed with tares the field which Christ sowed with good seed. In the Parable of the Leaven we see a false [or deceived] church, under the symbol of a woman, hiding, stealthily infusing, false doctrine into the true doctrine of Christ, to corrupt and thereby pervert it. In the Parable of the Mustard Tree and the Birds of the Air, which is prophetical, we learn how His kingdom, when it became large and prosperous, would be injured by the introduction into it of foreign, hostile influences.
The principal features of this parable are:
1. The insignificant seed sown.
2. The sower.
3. The tree.
4. The fowls of the air.
5. Their work - lodgement in the branches.
1. By the small seed sown it is
The sower of the seed was the same personage who is represented as sowing the good seed in the Parable of the Tares, and in the subsequent parable, and He it was who founded His kingdom by His own personal efforts, and not through the agency of others; for the stone was cut out without hands - human agency. Let this vital fact be constantly borne in mind that Christ has but one kingdom, and that this He “set up,” organized Himself, during His personal ministry on this earth, and not through the agency of others before His advent or subsequent to His ascension. It was a part of the work that was given Him to do, and which made it necessary for Him to come to this earth.
Religious organizations set up by men since the ascension of Christ, though called churches, certainly are not churches, nor do they compose in whole or in part the kingdom of Christ. As He never set up but one kingdom, and never has had but one, so from the day He set it up He has always had one. From the day He constituted it, although the malignant enemy has done all in his power to impede its growth, and to [Page 59] destroy it, nevertheless, like the stone of the mountain, it has never ceased for one hour to roll, and, like the mustard tree, for one moment to grow; and, blessed be God, it will roll on, and grow on, until under the personal administration and reign of Christ it shall become “a great mountain and fill the whole earth.”*
* With this prophecy (Dan. 2: 44) and this parable before his eyes, how can a candid interpreter of God’s word say that this kingdom has for ages together ceased to exist, or deny that there has been an unbroken succession of the true churches of Christ since as the constituents of His kingdom? The kingdom could not exist for one day or an hour without the existence of one or more true churches of Christ.
The mustard tree symbolizes the
THE BIRDS OF THE AIR
It is important that we ascertain who are represented by these.
It is as true as it is an old adage that “the Scriptures are their own interpreters.” It is certainly a doubtful procedure to explain one part of the Scriptures independent of other Scriptures, since no Scripture is of private - i.e. separate - interpretation.
As in algebra, although we make several [Page 60] independent equations in working out a given problem, if we find the value of x or y in one we can safely substitute that value for the x or y in each of the other equations.
In the Parable of the Leaven and Meal we found that leaven in both the Old and New Testaments represented that which is corrupt, false doctrine, and therefore this must be its true meaning in the Parable of the Leaven and Meal. Let us apply this rule. In the following Parable of the Sower, they were fowls, “the birds of the air,” that caught away the seed that was sown by the wayside.
Christ interprets these to represent the agencies Satan employs to catch away the good seed of the gospel [of the kingdom], which was sown in the hearts of the class of men represented by the “wayside.”
“Satan employs a variety of agents, as wicked men,* and other evil spirits.” – Williams’ Commentary in loco.
[*NOTE. He also is in the business of the employment of regenerate men whom he has duped! We draw this conclusion from Post-millennialist and Anti-Millennialist Christians.]
We are safe, therefore, in interpreting fowls of the air as representing “wicked” [or deceived] men.
What is done by the emissaries and men under the instigation and influence of the wicked one, is properly said to be done by himself. Here the fowls of the air are doubtless wicked men moved by Satan. They appertain to his kingdom; and he is the prince of the powers of the air - the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.
This “tree” was cultivated for its seed, and when ripe vast quantities of it were destroyed by the birds of the air. They did the tree no good, but injury.
Every orchardist knows how destructive the birds are to his fruit trees, and several kinds of fruit, as cherries, of which birds are peculiarly fond, have to [Page 61] be constantly guarded, and the birds driven out, to secure anything like a crop.
These “fowls of the air” did not come to sing, but to “lodge” - to roost - in the branches. If any one doubts the result of this use of a
tree, or a forest of trees, let him examine a pigeon or turkey roost, where
they do, in multitudes, congregate at night to lodge. The limbs are broken down and
the tree defiled with their excrescences; its beauty and symmetry defaced, its
growth impeded; and, unless the lodge or roost is soon broken up, the tree is
destroyed. This was a prophetic parable, pointing forward
to the time when the kingdom of Christ would become so extensive and popular
that the [duped regenerate and]
unregenerate and wicked - worldly men and women - would flock into it, not to
succour and cultivate, but simply to lodge in it -
use it for their own advantage. The
result of the gathering of the children of this world into any
[* See 1 Cor. 5: 13, R.V.]
The teaching of this parable agrees with that of the apostles everywhere that, unless unregenerate and wicked men and women are strictly kept out of, and [Page 62] excluded, when found in, the churches of Christ, they will be corrupted and their moral and spiritual influence destroyed.
This Scripture is being fulfilled before our eyes in this age. The churches have become so conformed to the world that they have become popular with the world; all persecution for Christ’s sake has ceased, and worldly, wicked men and women are flocking into the churches. In fact, it has become fashionable to be an active and much respected member of “some church” - of some religious organization called a church.
It is also a fact, owing to the multitude of those “lodgers” - unregenerate worldly men and women - in our churches, that scriptural discipline has become impossible, and the spiritual life and moral power of our churches are paralyzed.
An aged and thoughtful pastor not long since remarked in our hearing that he feared that not more than half of the members of his church were truly regenerated men and women.
I have heard several pastors in the last five years make substantially the same remark. Verily, verily, the fowls of the air are flocking to lodge in the branches of the symbolized “Mustard Tree.”
There can nothing be gathered from this parable to favour the theory that the whole world will be truly converted and gathered into the kingdom of Christ before His second coming. If by the fowls of the air wicked men are represented, then the parable teaches that “the kingdom of heaven” - the true churches of Christ that constitute it - in the latter days, will be filled with unregenerate men, and the last phase of [Page 63] Christianity in this dispensation will be worse than the first - the field overcrowded with tares, the pure doctrine of Christ perverted by the infusion of deadly error, and the kingdom of Christ demoralized by a worldly, unregenerate membership.
The advocates of that theory known as the Church-Branch Theory refer to this parable, and to this alone, for its support.
I suppose the misunderstanding and misconstruction of the parable originated the theory. The mustard tree, they claim, represents the one true church of Christ; and, as the tree is composed of many branches, so the church is composed of many denominations; indeed, that all the so-called denominations claiming to be churches that have existed, or that now exist, on this earth, taken together, have constituted, and do now constitute, the church.
There are many and insuperable difficulties in the way of this most irrational and absurd theory.
1. Christ has no visible or invisible organization called “the church.” There is no visible
or invisible organization on earth known in the word of God as “the church,” composed of all existing churches. It is a mere conception, not a reality. Whenever the phrase “the
2. Christ did not say that His church was like a mustard tree, but that His kingdom was. And the branches of this tree would therefore represent the constituents of which the kingdom is composed - all of Christ’s true local churches.
3. The branches of this mustard tree, like the [Page 64] branches of any other tree, were identically of the same wood, and not each of a different kind of wood. And these branches were organically united with the one body, and therefore with each other, like the members of our bodies, and each “branch” bore identically the same seed.
But in the conceptional tree of the church-branch theory the tree is all branches, without any trunk or body. And, stranger yet, if it is indeed possible for anything to be stranger, each branch is of a widely different species of wood, and bears radically different doctrines, having no organic connection with each other, and of course not with its body or trunk, for it has none. Most wonderful freak of nature! Most wonderful monstrosity! Nothing more monstrously absurd, save the church theory built upon the idea!
The kingdom of heaven, of God, of Christ, is composed, as I have said, of all Christ’s true local churches. These are the only executives of His kingdom, and they alone give it visibility. These churches are not heterogeneous and radically diverse, and therefore antagonistic bodies, but homogeneous - essentially alike - and therefore harmonious.
Christ himself said that a house divided against itself could not stand, and a kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation. Christ, therefore, did not build His “church,” which He calls His house, or constitute His kingdom, of diverse and antagonistic organizations, like the various existing denominations - that must conflict with each other because holding different, contradictious doctrines, and, from the very nature of the case, as one prevails in a given section all the others are exterminated by it. Built of [Page 65] such heterogeneous material, His house would soon fall and His kingdom be brought to desolation.
Surely what a flagrant perversion of Christ’s teachings is this gross travesty of this parable, by which it is wrested so as to contradict the unfigurative teachings of Christ and his apostles!
If I do no more by these expositions than to rescue this one parable from such misleading teachings, my humble effort will not be altogether in vain. But by another and a large class of expositors it is claimed that Christ intended to teach by this parable that ultimately the whole world will be Christianized and gathered into His church or kingdom, because He said, “The fowls of the air lodged in the branches of this tree.” But, unfortunately for this theory, Christ in the next parable tells us that the “fowls of the air” represent the devil - i.e. evil spirits or wicked men - since he used these to accomplish his wicked purposes, and in this case his purpose is certainly not to help the kingdom of Christ, but to injure it by the introduction of wicked men into it.
I can not doubt that this parable is a prophecy foreshadowing the fact that in after years Christianity would become so extended and popular that His churches - which compose His kingdom - would be demoralized by the introduction of masses of unregenerate members.
The thoughtful student of church history is impressed with no fact more forcibly than that the great apostasy of the primitive churches which occurred in the third, fourth and fifth centuries was brought about by the introduction of the world - unregenerate men - those churches and this was effected by [Page 66] corrupting the true doctrine of Christ by the introduction of the leaven of false doctrine, sacramental salvation, viz: teaching that the grace of remission of sins and regeneration, and consequently salvation, was communicated alone through the ordinances of the church.
Hence the Catholic aphorism, “No salvation out of the church” - a doctrine still held by the
Catholics and all
A willingness to join the church and be baptized is, alas! too generally accounted a satisfactory qualification for the rite and church membership. Unless this tendency is speedily and effectively checked, a second and general apostasy will follow, as certainly as one sun-set follows another, from the same cause.
This parable should impress both the ministry and membership of our churches with the sacred duty of guarding with holy vigilance against the entrance of the unregenerate into our churches, and, by the exercise of a strict gospel discipline, driving out all “the fowls of the air” that are now lodging in them.
* * *
THE SOWER AND BIRDS OF THE AIR
“AND He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them. Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth; and when the sun was up they were scorched, and, because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them. But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” - Matt. 13: 3-8.
“Hear ye, therefore, the Parable of the Sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not,* then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by, he is offended. He [Page 68] also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word and understandeth it, which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” - Matt. 13: 18-23.
* It has been said there are four different kinds of hearers of the word [of the KINGDOM]: Those like a sponge, that suck up good and bad together, and let both run out immediately - “having ears and hearing not;” those like a sand-glass, that let what enters in at one ear pass out at the other - hearing without thinking; those like a strainer, letting go the good and retaining the bad; and those like the sieve, letting go the chaff and retaining the good grain.
This parable is so specifically interpreted by Christ that no extended exposition is needed, and I shall therefore only call attention to its general scope and dispensational teaching.
I think the first great fact taught by this parable is, that the whole field - i.e. the whole world, for He has told us the field is the world (Matt. 13.) - is, by the ministry of His disciples to be sown with the good seed of the gospel of salvation, notwithstanding its size or its apparent hard or stony or thorny parts (unpromising parts), and not here and there a patch only to be put in the highest state of cultivation. This was the duty Christ enjoined upon His apostles, and commanded them to teach all those discipled by them to observe all things He had commanded them - His apostles. If, then, it was the duty of the apostles and the primitive churches to preach the gospel [of the kingdom as well as the grace of God] to all nations, it is manifestly the duty of every one who hears the gospel to receive it, and obey its requirements; and if any are unable, by natural defects, to do so, it certainly can not rightfully be made their duty to do so. I will illustrate to the reader.
Suppose a benevolent agriculturist should propose to plant for you, a farmer, one acre of your land with an exceedingly rare and valuable variety of cotton-seed, each seed fruiting being worth to you five or ten dollars. What would be your conduct?
1. Would you not put a good fence around that acre that would effectually close up any neighbourhood road leading over it, and shut off any foot-paths leading through it, and this for the most obvious purposes?
2. Would you not thoroughly plow up the hard soil, and put it in good tilth for the proposed planting?
3. If there were briar or thorn patches on this acre, would you not carefully grub them up, “root and branch” and burn them, and gather up the stones, if any, and carry them off? So teach the Scriptures. Break up the fallow ground of your hearts, and sow not among thorns (Jer. 4: 3). “And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof.”
4. If there was a glady or barren spot on it, where the soil was thin and poor, would you not treat it with a few loads of richer earth, and enrich it with manure? You would do all these things, and give that acre the most diligent cultivation most certainly, and not think them either too hard or unreasonable; and you would give that acre, while that crop was growing, the most diligent cultivation, and allow nothing of minor importance to divert your attention until that crop was made, and the rich results secured.
Is it not a gospel truth that sinners are in a great measure responsible for the hardness and thorny condition of their hearts, and their inconsiderateness and trifling with divine things?
5. By this parable Christ further taught His disciples how subtle and successful and constant would the efforts of Satan to abort and render ineffectual the good seed of the gospel [of the kingdom] sown by their ministry, and all spiritual influences exerted on the hearts of their hearers. And He doubtless gave them this [Page 70] instruction to the end that they might not be discouraged or overwhelmed with disappointment when they saw how very few of all the multitudes they preached to would receive and be benefited by their preaching. In this parable only one-fourth of all who heard the word [of the kingdom] brought forth any fruit. This would be a very large estimate when applied to the ministry of His disciples during this gospel dispensation. Not one in a hundred - nay, not even in a thousand - of those who heard the gospel preached by Christ and His apostles “in the demonstration of the Spirit and in power” by manifold and wonderful miracles. Indeed, of all that vast throng then before Him, and of the throng at one time of five thousand, and another of seven thousand, all went back save the twelve apostles, and followed Him no more, because they were displeased with His teachings!
6. By the manifest teachings of this parable we are justified and warranted in the belief - aye forced to conclude - that this will be the case during the entire gospel, or Gentile, dispensation as it was during the ministry of Christ and His apostles, and as we see it is at this present time. How confirmatory of this sad fact is the express declaration of Christ, which will be as true the day before His second advent as it was in His day, and we see it is in our day:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.” - Matt. 7: 13.
“Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” - Matt. 7: 14.
This will be true to the very
close of this dispensation, until the law that shall go forth from
Think of seventy-two ministers and seventy-two Baptist
churches with their twenty thousand members who have for years been labouring
to Christianize one hundred inhabited square miles of Pennsylvania, at a cost
of $117,284 per
preaching, and an outlay of $2,642,580 already made for houses of worship to
preach the gospel in, and yet the number of non-professors is increasing
yearly! How long will it take to
Christianize this small area? and how many millions of money? and so of
It is not for this purpose that Christ commanded the gospel to he preached to all nations. He leaves us not to speculate about this, but expressly tells us, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matt. 24: 14.) And to the intent that all nations might be judged by it, and to take out of them a people for His name. “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.” (Acts 15: 14.)
The churches have been taught,
and are now being taught, that Christ has imposed the duty upon them to Christianize all men
of all nations, which He certainly has nowhere done, or intimated that such is
their duty. That it is the duty of the churches of this age to preach the
gospel to every nation under the whole heaven to the extent of their ability no
one has a right for one moment to doubt.
It was for this purpose His churches were organized. This duty He [Page 72] enjoined upon them in His first
sermon on the mount. This duty He
commanded His apostles to enjoin upon all those who should be discipled by
them, and this duty He enjoined in His farewell address to His disciples on the
We are spending millions of money and scores of lives in attempting to Christianize all the inhabitants dwelling upon a few square miles, high farming on a few patches, and leaving the great field unsown.
This is not the age of universal conversion. That can not be even comparatively effected until Satan is bound, and cast out of the earth, so that he can deceive the nations no more. Hear what Christ says:
“Verily the strong man armed [Satan] keepeth his palace [this world] and his goods in peace, and he will keep it until the stronger than he cometh and he will first bind him and cast him out and take possession of his goods.” (See Rev. 20: l.)
This is the age of universal evangelization, and not for the conversion of every creature. We are not left to speculate as to Christ’s design in this. He has most explicitly informed us:
“And this GOSPEL [i.e., the ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’] of THE KINGDOM shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end [of this evil age - not of this world] come.” - Matt. 26: 14.
As we would hasten that end, and, as lovers of the Saviour, hasten His glorious coming, to dethrone Satan, and enthrone Himself and His saints as rulers [Page 73] of this world, we should do all in our power, by effort, by prayer, and by our means, to aid in preaching the gospel [of Messiah’s coming kingdom] “to all nations for a witness.”
The apostles clearly understood that it was their duty to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and they as clearly understood that but comparatively few of earth’s population would be saved.
Let us then, as churches of the living Christ, clearly understand the duty He enjoins on us. When He gave His marching orders He did not say, “All will be born at once,” or “All will be converted before you,” or “before My second advent” - no such thought is ever found in all His teachings. The command is, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The only promise is, “Lo, I am with you alway.” He knew how much we would need His presence. He knew that the messenger would be rejected as His Master had been. His presence, not our success, was to be our comfort.
He is a poor servant who goes merely by success. At the day of the Lord the word will not be, “Well done good and successful servant,” but, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” We can not command success. But we can all aim at faithfulness; we can...all, by relying upon His grace and presence, be faithful unto death. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” the Master said to those who were to be His witnesses, not to be received but to be murdered. Faithful in the little, we shall be rewarded with the crown He will give, for, “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” – “We shall be glorified together.” To-day is the day [Page 74] of the Cross, and our witnessing to Him, to the uttermost ends of the earth. The glory, the crown, the reward, will soon be there, and above all Himself. The Man of Calvary, the Man whom Stephen saw standing at the right hand of God, whom Saul saw on the way to Damascus, will appear in royal glory to put down all the wrong, to exalt all the right - to put down all rule and authority opposed to God, and reign in righteousness over a sin-blighted world.
Let us, then, cheerfully labour, and sacrifice liberally of the means He himself has given us, to hasten His coming by aiding in sending forth the missionaries of the Cross to sow the whole field, by preaching the gospel to the nations now sitting in darkness, and to the isles that are waiting for His law.
* * *
SEEKING, FINDING AND REDEEMING
A LOST WORLD
A LOST RACE.
1. THE LOST SHEEP.
2. THE LOST COIN.
3. THE PURCHASED FIELD.
4. THE PURCHASED
[Page 76 blank Page 77]
CHRIST SEEKING, FINDING AND
REDEEMING THE LOST
THE Saviour having taught His disciples how sin was introduced into the world through the personal machinations of His Arch Adversary, the devil, and its disastrous consequences to the world and a wicked race, we would naturally expect that He would reveal to them, and through them to us, His own gracious mission to this earth, His own amazing, wondrous love in seeking to save a lost world, and restore it to its primitive relation to the unfallen worlds of God’s universe, since a failure to recover what was lost would be a reflection upon His care or His honour. This I think He has done. By referring to Luke’s record of His teachings (chapter 15.), we find He makes the murmuring of the Pharisees because He received sinners, and ate with them, the occasion of teaching them that His mission was to seek and save the lost - lost men and the lost world. This He does in three striking parabolic illustrations, in which the careful reader will discover an advance in the thought from the care of a shepherd for a wandering sheep to the anxiety of a woman for a lost ornament, reaching its climax in the deeper love of a father for his banished and lost son.
These parables of Christ were designedly constructed [Page 78] by Him, He tells us (Matt. 3: 10, 18), so as to convey a sense that the Jews seeing could see, and yet not perceive, and hearing could hear, and yet not understand. Does not this language imply that there was a primary or superficial sense and application of them that the Jews could readily see, as the tender care and responsibility of a good shepherd for all his sheep, the anxiety of a woman for a lost ornament – coin - which is a part of a valuable ornament - and the deeper love of a fond father for a lost son; and yet does it not imply that there was a broader and deeper “meaning which they did not and could not perceive” or “understand,” embracing, as it did, the great truths of His redeeming love, and the mysteries of His mediatorial kingdom on earth - i.e. His equal love for all men, and His merciful provision of salvation for the Gentiles as well as the Jews?
If I am right in this, the primary sense or application of the parables bears the same relation to their deeper and real meaning as the hull or shell does to the luscious meat of the kernel or nut. With this key in hand let us examine the three parables recorded together by Luke (chapter 15.) in their order. I call attention to the first:
THE LOST SHEEP
“Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And He spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home he calleth together his [Page 79] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” - Luke 16: 1-7.
The Saviour undoubtedly designed by this parable primarily to teach these self-righteous and scornful Pharisees that all which the Father had given to Him were equally dear to Him, and that among those were the poor and the degraded and the outcasts of earth, the lightly esteemed of men, and He came to seek and save these very persons because they were lost. Upon another occasion He shows that, by dining with Zacchaeus, who was a publican, He came not to call the self-righteous, but sinners, to repentance. In this parable, then, we have:
1. The shepherd.
2. The lost sheep.
3. The long and painful search.
4. The joy upon the discovery.
5. The Father as the owner of the sheep.
Christ is the Shepherd, He of whom David sang in that sweetest of his pastoral songs: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Christ assumes this character towards all whom the Father gave Him to save in the covenant of redemption. He says:
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know [Page 80] I the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” - John 10: 11-16.
The lost sheep in its lowest
parabolic symbolism, then, represents lost sinners given to the Son in the
covenant of redemption to save, and therefore the obligation upon Him to seek
and save it. Used in this sense, His
leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness while he goes to seek the lost one
would be but the more striking and true to life. I submit the following account of what a
traveller saw upon the
“One day we were making our way, with ice-axe and alpenstock, down the Aletusch Glacier, when we observed a flock of sheep following their shepherds over the intricate windings between crevasses, and so passing from the pastures on the one side of the glacier to the pastures on the other. The flock had numbered two hundred all told; but on the way one sheep had got lost. One of the shepherds, in his German patois, appealed to us if we had seen it. Fortunately, one of the party had a field-glass. With its aid we discovered the lost sheep far up amid a tangle of brushwood, on the rocky mountain side. It was beautiful to see how the shepherd, without a word, left his hundred and ninety-nine sheep out on the glacier waste (knowing that they would stand there perfectly still and safe), and went clambering back after the lost sheep until he found it. And he actually put it on his shoulder and ‘returned rejoicing.’ Here was our Lord’s parable enacted before our eyes, though the shepherd was all unconscious of it, and it brought our Lord’s teaching home to us with a vividness which none can realize but those who saw the incident.”
For a shepherd to lose a sheep would be a severe [Page 81] reflection upon his qualifications as a good shepherd.
These in all countries are:
1. Ability to defend them.
He said in the sheep-raising countries (shepherds are professional characters - they make it a life business) these qualifications are always required, and especially the last, for the shepherd is made responsible for all he takes the care of, and the life and welfare, therefore, of one sheep is as important to him, and as much the subject of his care, as of another. It was so from the earliest times in the East. Jacob said to Laban that while he had served him in the capacity of shepherd or herdsman -
“This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hands didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.” - Gen. 31: 38, 39.
It is the joy of every Christian that our Shepherd-Redeemer possesses these qualifications in an infinite degree. 1. He is omnipotent to save. 2. He is omniscient to see all that can possibly happen to the least of His sheep. 3. He is all-merciful, and His tender mercies are over all committed to His care. 4. He is infinitely responsible, and has made Himself so to the Father in an “Everlasting Covenant.” It is impossible, therefore, for one of His to be lost. It would be an everlasting dishonour to the Shepherd of Israel to lose the least lamb of His flock:
“All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and Him [Page 82] that cometh to Me I will in nowise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that all of which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” - John 6: 37-39.
“But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My band. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” - John 10: 26-29.
“Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none.” - John 18: 9.
Well has the poet expressed it:
“His honour is engaged to save
The weakest of His sheep;
All whom the heavenly Father gave,
His hands securely keep.”
Upon such a firm foundation, then, does the preservation of His people rest. Let this lost sheep, in its primary application, therefore, represent lost sinners for whom Christ died, and whom He came to seek that He might save, and these are generally among the very “publicans and sinners” in the estimation of the world and the self-righteous,
His leaving the ninety-nine and going after that which was lost, represents all that He did and suffered in His life and in His death, as well as all the agencies He now inspires and employs in connection with His church in the recovery of lost men. In the wilderness of this world will He prosecute this mission until all given Him - every “sheep” - shall have been found and brought into the fold.
Not the least feature of this parable is the joy [Page 83] manifested upon the recovery of the lost sheep. The Saviour manifestly emphasized the fact, that He might impress those Pharisees with the inestimable value God placed upon the soul of one of the wickedest and most degraded of those publicans who gathered around Him, and whom He sought to save. There is joy in heaven over the least one of them more than over ninety and nine, or nine hundred and ninety-nine, sinless angels who need no repentance.
There is another thought that a
With the following song, based
on this interpretation, Mr. Sankey moved all
THE NINETY AND NINE
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold;
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold -
Away on the mountains wild and bare -
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine,
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “’Tis of Mine
Has wandered away from Me,
And, although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep the waters crossed,
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry -
Sick and helpless and ready to die.
“Lord, whence are those blood drops, all the way,
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced to-night by many a thorn.”
But all through the mountains, thunder-riven,
And up from the rocky steep,
There rose a cry to the gate of heaven
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice! for the Lord brings back His own!”
I think this parable may safely be interpreted, in its deeper and broader significance, so as to supplement that of the tares, revealing to His disciples of that age, and through them to the world of all ages, the wonderful self-sacrificing love that moved the Son of God to engage to seek and to save one of the lost worlds of God’s universe - lost through the machinations of Satan. If we may so understand it, the lost sheep, the original and rightful property of the Father, symbolizes this lost world of ours, alienated by reason of [Page 85] sin, and rolling far away from God, into the blackness of hopeless darkness forever - lost without the merciful intervention of a compassionate and an almighty and merciful Redeemer. In this sense the good shepherd beautifully symbolizes the Son of God, who, moved by compassionate love, left all the sinless, unfallen worlds of the many-mansioned universe of God, and came down from the heights of His heavenly glory to seek and to save the one that was lost.
This would be the history of the redemptive scheme.
The prophecy is its glorious and jewelled setting.
The world, despite the powers of darkness, is ultimately to be found and restored to its pristine condition. This sin-cursed, this wicked and ruined, world is to be redeemed, and brought back and safely folded again with the worlds of light that have never fallen. Or still more explicitly, that Christ’s redemptive work, already begun, will go on and on, until it is consummated in the redemption of this physical earth, on which God’s curse now rests for man’s sin - when it shall be renovated and refashioned to become what God originally intended it to be - the glorious residence of sinless beings, and, prospectively, the eternal habitation and heaven of Christ’s redeemed saints.
That this literal earth is ultimately to be redeemed from the curse and ruinous effects of sin, which, for man’s sake, were visited upon it, is a matter of undoubted revelation:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath [Page 86] subjected the same in hope, because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only it, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” - Rom. 8: 18-23.
This is a striking example of personification. This earth is represented as a person unwillingly and innocently suffering for the wrong-doing of another; and, having heard the promise of ultimate deliverance made in Eden, that the seed of the woman shall bruise - i.e. crush - the serpent’s head, and that the power and works of Satan shall ultimately be exterminated and obliterated, it impatiently suffers on in expectancy, groaning and waiting in hopeful expectation of its ultimate perfect deliverance from its bondage of corruption, all the manifold evils it has for so many ages suffered, and receive honour for its long disgrace; and it is represented as recognizing that its deliverance will be coetaneous with the full and completed redemption of the children of God.
That this literal earth is ultimately to become the eternal habitation, home and heaven of all the redeemed is also undoubtedly and expressly revealed in both the Old and New Covenants:
“Trust in the Lord, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the earth, and verily thou shalt be fed. ... For evildoers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” - Ps. 37: 3, 9.
Evil-doers (the tares) have never yet been rooted up and cut off from the earth, and this earth given solely to the righteous; nor, as we learned from the Parable [Page 87] of the Tares, will they be destroyed from the field (the face of the earth) until the end of the harvest age, but that then they will be utterly cut off; so that however diligently one wicked man might he sought for he could not be found on the face of the whole earth; and when this takes place the earth will be the eternal abode of the righteous only:
“For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. ... the Lord knoweth the days of the upright; and their inheritance shall be forever. ... But the wicked shall perish; and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume, into smoke shall they consume away. ... The righteous shall inherit the earth, and dwell therein forever.” - Ps. 37: 10, 11, 18, 20, 29.
Without referring to other passages in the Old Covenant, let my readers consider the explicit promises and prophecies of Christ:
“Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.” - Matt. 5: 5.
And this, which the apostles refer to with the greatest confidence:
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am there ye may be also.” - John 14: 2, 3.
Peter, referring to this promise, tells us plainly where this place, prepared by Christ for the future and eternal home and heaven of the redeemed, will be: [Page 88] “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” - 2 Peter 3: 13.
He learned the fact that this earth was to be the place Christ would prepare for His disciples either from the lips of Christ himself or it was revealed to him by the Spirit.
In the last revelation Christ made to His beloved disciple, He showed him “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea.” (Rev. 21: 1)
Neither the firmament above nor the economy of the face of the earth itself will bear the appearance of the present earth while under the curse of its Maker; for He that “sat upon the throne” said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
But why is this material earth to be regenerated, refashioned and adorned with such care, and furnished and embellished with such unparalleled munificence beyond any other spot in the universe? Certainly not to be annihilated, or to be left desolate and un-inhabited. But well may it thus be made new and inconceivably glorious, if it is to be, more than any other place, the special abode of the glorified Saviour with His people. It is to be prepared for His redeemed:
“And I heard a loud voice out of the throne, saying, Behold the tabernacle [i.e. the dwelling, the abode] of God is with men [on the new earth]; and He will dwell with them, and they shall he His people; and GOD-WITH-MEN himself shall he their God.” - Rev. 21: 3, R. V.
Read all that Christ reveals to us concerning our [Page 89] final heaven-made home in His last revelation, commencing at the twenty-first chapter, after the last judgment has been held and the new earth prepared:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people; and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write, for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” - Rev. 21: 1-8.
Here, for the first time since the fall, do we find the whole earth freed from the curse of sin and sinners – the tares having all been gathered out of it and burned, and the righteous in full and sole possession of it, “to dwell therein forever.” Here, for the first time, the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray, which for long ages has welled up from the hearts and been breathed from the lips of so many thousands, will be answered, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as in heaven.” Now, for the first time, Christ’s redemptive work will have been completely [Page 90] consummated, all enemies having been put under His feet, and uncounted millions of the once ruined race redeemed, and the wrecked world restored. Now will He, as Messiah, according to covenant stipulations, having abrogated all anti-Christian governments, organizations, authorities and opposing powers, abrogate all governments and all authority and power, give up His kingdom (the absolute government and authority and power vested in Him as King of this world - Matt. 28: 18) to God and the Father - that God (i.e. the Godhead) may from henceforth be all in all.
“‘Then cometh the end, when He shall give up the kingdom to God and the Father, when He shall abrogate all government and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has placed all enemies under His feet. Even death, the last enemy, will be rendered powerless.’ (1 Cor. 3: 24, 28.)” - Seven Dispensations, pp. 550-552.
This last quotation contains the announcement of the full and final consummation of the work of Christ - of His long seeking, crowned with His finding, and saving the lost, and His bringing back and restoring a lost and ruined world, symbolized by the lost sheep, to God, even the Father. There will indeed be greater joy in heaven over this one world saved than over all the countless worlds that never needed deliverance. Their inhabitants will be summoned to rejoice over the consummated work of Christ when the Son shall return it to the Father.*
* I refer the reader to The Seven Dispensations, last chapter, for the full development of “this earth the home and heaven of the redeemed.”
The lofty peerage of the heavens, with all their mighty principalities and powers and dominions, will [Page 91] be assembled in their most resplendent holiday pageantry to celebrate and make forever illustrious this grand and most glorious event of all the eternities past. Surely the returning Shepherd, with His precious treasure found - a world redeemed and saved - will be hailed with loftier songs and louder shouts of joy than those which once shook the universe and caused the “heaven of heavens” to vibrate with thrills of ecstasy when “the morning stars first sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” over its creation.
Surely this parable, in this extended sense, should encourage and inspire every Christian’s heart. This world is not always to be left under the power of the evil one. A most glorious destiny awaits it. It is to be emancipated and disenthralled, and made the most glorious orb of all the countless worlds - the palatial mansion of the Lamb’s wife, His redeemed saints.
* * *
THE PARABLE OF THE LOST COIN
COMPANION to and spoken in connection with the last is the Parable of THE LOST COIN.
“Either what woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” - Luke 15: 8-10.
This parable is generally preached as illustrating one of two things:
1. That the lost coin represents a lost soul - i.e. a sinner awakened to the fact that his soul is lost, and that no efforts should be spared by him to find it, and thus secure its salvation - that he should seek and seek, and never give over the search until he finds it.
There is at least one insuperable difficulty opposed to this interpretation. The woman would symbolize the sinner, dead in trespasses and in sin, discovering that he has lost his soul, and, awakening to a sense of his loss, setting about to recover it by his own efforts and labour; and that at last, by his own unaided efforts (for the woman had no aid), he does find it - [Page 93] secures its salvation. The reader can see that there is no Christly Saviour in all this - no grace - no help from above or without himself, but it is all works. It is not in harmony with the other teachings of the Scriptures. They everywhere represent that it is Christ who seeks after the lost sinner, and not the lost sinner after Christ. See the preceding Parable of the Lost Sheep. It was the shepherd who sought after the sheep, and not the sheep after the shepherd. He himself says:
“The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” - Luke 19: 10.
2. The second sense in which it is so often preached is, that the woman who lost her valuable coin represents a Christian who has lost his hope of salvation - has fallen from grace; and, of course, unless he finds it, he is forever lost. The efforts of the woman to find her coin illustrates the diligent and persistent efforts the awakened apostate should make in recovering his hope, in becoming renewed again to repentance and spiritual life and hope. The rejoicing falls in naturally.
I can not accept this interpretation for two good and sufficient reasons:
1. It is evidently out of harmony with the teachings of the other parables spoken at the same time; and we can not think that Christ intended to teach any such doctrine here. It manifestly contradicts the other teachings of Christ* and His apostles. This [Page 94] interpretation represents the Christian as intrusted with the keeping of his own soul’s salvation - of his Christian hope, and that he may lose it, and, indeed, is in constant danger of losing it; and that, having lost it (the grace of salvation), he may, by his own diligent and persistent efforts, find and recover it again, which is contrary to the teachings of Christ and His apostles elsewhere.
* The so often quoted promise, “Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you,” was addressed to His disciples to encourage them to pray, and has no application to sinners dead in sin. The sinner, convicted of sin, and deeply sorrowing for sin, and weary of sin, is invited to come to Christ for rest.
The Christian is not intrusted with the keeping of his own soul’s salvation, but this is and can be the work of an Almighty One only:
“The Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His saints; they are PRESERVED FOREVER.” - Psalms 37: 28.
And not only are they themselves preserved from falling, but their inheritance of life and glory eternal reserved for them in heaven:
“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” - Jude 24.
Now, if Christ alone is able to keep His children from falling and perishing, will He not do it?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” - 1 Peter 1: 3-5.
It is said by those who teach apostasy that it is [Page 95] through faith - the Christian’s faith - that he is kept; but that if this fails in the day of severe trial, as it may, he is lost. But will his faith ever perish and fail him however severely tried, even as though by fire? Peter’s faith did not fail him, for Christ had prayed for him that it should not fail; and, in like manner, Christ prays for every one of His tempted and sorely tried saints. Peter’s faith did not keep him from sin, but it did keep him from final apostasy. And now hear him strengthen his brethren, as Christ commanded him, after he was converted from his self-trust - Arminianism:
“Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time; wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” - 1 Peter 1: 5-7.
Pure gold can not be destroyed or lessened in value by exposure to the fiercest fire, but is only purified by it; and so it is with the Christian’s faith.
Again, the interpretation I oppose takes it for granted that the Christian must keep his hope of salvation, while the Scriptures teach that it is the Christian’s hope that keeps him:
“Which hope we have as anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth to that within the vail.” - Heb. 7: 19.
While I might continue these objections to the Arminian interpretation, I will notice but one more, which must to every candid Christian mind be a [Page 96] conclusive one. It assumes not only that a Christian - a truly regenerated man - can so fall away and apostatize as to lose his regeneration and Christian hope, but that he may renew himself again, or be renewed again, to repentance, and be regenerated and saved, which doctrine is in palpable contradiction to the express declaration of God’s word. Paul says if these might, could or should fall away - i.e. fall from the grace of regeneration - it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. (Heb. 6: 6.)
“There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” - Heb. 10: 26, 27.
For these and many other reasons, I can not accept either of the above interpretations.
The superficial sense clearly illustrated the natural anxiety of a Judean woman to recover a coin lost from her head-dress, and, therefore, the unreasonableness of the murmuring of the Pharisees because He would save a lost sinner, who, though a publican, was of so much greater value in the eyes of God.
But may it not, like the Parable of the Lost Sheep, have a deeper and more comprehensive signification? That the reader may the more clearly see this, they should know how highly this piece of coin might have been valued by the woman, and how great the loss to her. And this we have in the remarks of an Eastern traveller that no commentator that I have seen alludes to. He says:
Had Aaron lost but one of the least valuable stones from his breastplate, the breastplate itself would have been marred and rendered useless, and the value of that one gem was that of the breastplate. So it was not the essential value of that one piece of silver which gave that woman anxiety, but it was the value of the beautiful head-dress itself, while its loss would be a reflection upon her carefulness, etc. And so, in the possible broader and higher sense, the loss of one [Page 98] of the bright worlds that make resplendent the crown of God’s declarative glory would not only mar the beauty and dim the lustre of that crown, but be a continual reflection upon the all-wisdom and all-power of the Creator himself.
The woman in this parable represents the same person the good shepherd did in the former one, and I can but think that in its higher sense is intended to illustrate the persistent anxiety and unremitting diligence of Christ in seeking to find and recover a lost world.
The prophecy of the parable, then, is that His redemptive work will not for one moment cease until this world, this physical earth, once so bright and beautiful, like that lost coin, though all blurred and tarnished now it be, but still bearing the image and superscription of its divine Maker and Owner, is found and cleansed, refurnished and reset in more than its pristine resplendency in that diadem which shall ultimately encircle the brow of the world’s Redeemer.
* * *
THE COST OF THE
IN the Parable of the Tares we learn how sin was first introduced into the world and its disastrous effects; in the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, the diligent seeking and searching on the part of the shepherd in the one case, and the woman in the other, to find and regain that which was lost. From the two I now propose to examine in their order, we learn what the redemption of the world, under the figure of a hid treasure and a pearl of great price, cost the world’s Redeemer.
THE TREASURE HID IN A FIELD
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found he hideth, and for joy, thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” - Matt. 13: 44.
The principal symbols of this parable are:
1. The field.
2 The hid treasure.
3. The finder and buyer.
As generally preached and interpreted by commentators, the man is made to represent a sinner seeking religion or a “hope of salvation,” which, when he [Page 100] finds, or where and when it may be obtained, gladly goes and sells all he has, and exchanges it for the inestimable treasure of eternal life and glory. (See Scott, and others.)
“This hidden treasure represents the invaluable blessings of the gospel, and these are contained in the Scriptures.” - Scott.
To this generally received theory of interpretation 1 oppose insuperable objections:
1. It makes the field the Scriptures, when Christ declares “the field is the world.”
2. It teaches that salvation can and is to be purchased by the sinner, which is contrary to and subversive of the teachings of Christ and His apostles throughout the Scriptures. I understand the field to represent this world (see Chapter I.); and that the fact that Christ uses the term field in another parable in the same chapter, and explains it to mean this world, I think should determine what He designed it to mean in this. It is, I think, safe to say, in interpreting the parables representing the kingdom of heaven, that each of these parables must harmonize with all, and all with each, for in each there are things in common, inasmuch as they are “like unto the kingdom of heaven,” and if like unto the same thing they must, in one or two respects, be like unto each other.
It is a well-known rule of interpretation that figures must not be made to “go on all fours,” i.e. force a meaning on every part - upon the mere accidents - of the parable, but only the most important features are representative. The field in this parable is an important feature, and must mean something, and I can [Page 101] refer it to nothing else to make sense; and it does not only make sense, but harmonizes with the teachings of Christ to understand it of this world. That the people of God, the “seed of Abraham,” are the treasures hid in this field, is amply sustained by the teachings of the Word.
The saints are called the riches of the glory of Christ’s inheritance. (Eph. 1: 18.) They are a “peculiar treasure” to Him:
Lord has chosen Jacob unto Himself, and
The people of God are expressly designated as His “hidden ones.”
The universal exposition of this text makes [eternal] salvation the treasure which, upon the sinner finding, he gives and exchanges all he has, and adds a life of righteousness to obtain it. If this were so, then [this] salvation can be purchased by the sinner’s works and righteousness.
The “travail” of the Saviour’s soul was contained in the world, hidden to the eyes of men and angels, and known or found by Christ himself, (Isaiah 52.) He had hid their names in His own breast from all, though it may be considered an accidental feature of the parable.
3. Christ was the purchaser of the field.
He purchased the world and the treasure He discovered in it by the stipulations of the covenant of redemption. He purchased the earth and His people by His own blood. The Father, in that covenant, made over to His Son this earth as His purchased possession:
“Ask of Me and I shall give the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thine inheritance.” - Psalms 2: 8.
“Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed.” - Psalms 74: 2.
Paul refers (Eph. 1: 14) to both the earth and the saints as the purchased possession of Christ.
4. Christ paid a great price for His “treasure” - “His people.”
He surrendered the throne of heaven, gave up the glory He had with the Father, the adoration of angels, and “emptied himself,” so that He might become incarnated in our flesh, and “Brother to our souls become.”
He condescended to become a servant and debtor to the law, that He might become our substitute. He paid a life of privation and disgrace, suffered the contradiction of sinners against Himself, and finally laid down His own life, paid the infinite claims that eternal justice demanded for the redemption of His people, and it was no less than the price of “His own blood.”
Thus it may be truly said of Christ, “He sold all He had and gave it for that field.” What more could He have given than He did give? “For our sakes He became poor.” He is throughout the Scriptures represented as the Purchaser, the Buyer, the Redeemer, of His people, and they are represented as the purchased, the bought, the redeemed:
“For ye are bought with a price.”
“Even denying the Lord who bought them.”
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.”
And surely it was with great price - “all that He had:”
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, … but with the precious blood of Christ.” - 1 Peter 1: 18.
It is a deep mystery, yet a great fact, that an usurper has still possession of the field as “tenant at will;” but we find a glorious fact against this mystery, that the usurper will one day be bound hand and foot and cast out, and that Christ, the Purchaser, will take possession of His own “field,” and bring to light the hid treasure it contains.
Christ will never regret the purchase of this field, nor will He be disappointed in the treasure it contains:
“He shall see the travail of His soul, and he satisfied.” - Isaiah.
* * *
“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.”* - Matt. 13: 45, 46.
* “Pliny tells us that Cleopatra’s two famous pearls were valued at about four hundred thousand dollars of our money, and the purchasing power of money was then ten or fifteen times as great as now.”- Bruce.
This parable was designed to inculcate the same great truths that were taught in the parable interpreted in the last chapter, but in language to attract and impress another and a large class of His hearers - merchantmen.
We have here the three leading features of the former parable:
1. The pearl of vast value.
2. The buyer.
3. The price paid.
1. The pearl of great price represents the same object that the hid treasure did in the preceding parable - the seed, the people, the sheep, contemplated to be saved in the covenant of redemption. It was in the light of the provisions of that covenant that the “hid treasure” and the “pearl” were discovered, found and brought to light.
2. The merchantman seeking goodly pearls represents the Son of
God, who came to this world “to seek and to save
the lost.” This “
3. For this pearl He did indeed pay a great price. He gave all that He had for it. He became poor that we, through His poverty, might become rich; that we might be brought up from the deep darkness and filth of sin and polished for His crown, as the pearl from the deep, dark waters and slime of the ocean to adorn the diadem of a monarch, and to receive the admiration of all beholders.
4. We see the priceless value of human souls in the estimation of Jesus.
5. We see what it cost Him to redeem us from the possession of Satan, and from the curse of the law, and to save us.
6. We see in this the matchless love and compassion of Christ, so loving us as to be willing to pay such an infinite price for us.
7. We see the infinite obligations we are under to Him for our redemption.
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small -
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
8. We see, in the light of this, that we are not our own, but are bought with a price; hence arises the obligation and reasonable duty to honour and serve Him with our bodies and our spirits, which are His.
9. We see that to interpret this, as it generally is preached, to mean that when a sinner, after diligent search, has found salvation, or when it can be obtained, and the price for which it can be purchased, [the regenerate believer] must go and sell all that he has, and buy it, is to teach that [God’s initial and eternal] salvation is a marketable commodity - [which] can and is to be purchased with what the [regenerate] sinner has or can command by his own sacrifices, or by works of righteousness which his own hands can do, which doctrine is contrary to all the teachings of the Word of God.
“Nothing either great or small
Remains for me to do;
Jesus died and paid it all -
Yes, all the debt I owe.
When He, from His lofty throne,
Stooped down to do and die,
Everything was fully done -
Yes, ‘finished’ was the cry.
Weary, working, plodding one,
Oh, wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing - all was done -
Yes, ages long ago.
Till to Jesus’ work you cling
Alone by simple faith,
‘Doing’ is a deadly thing -
All ‘doing’ wnds in death.
Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down –
Down all at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him - in Him alone -
All glorious and complete.”
“Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”
THE MYSTERIES CONSIST OF TWO FACTS:
1. That the Gentiles were to share in the salvation of the gospel on equal terms with the Jews.
2. That as a nation the Jews were to be rejected, because of their rejection of Christ,
until the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in.
1. THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
2. THE TWO SONS.
3. THE ELDER AND YOUNGER BROTHERS.
4. THE LABORERS AND THE HOURS.
5. THE GREAT SUPPER.
6. THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN.
7. THE BARREN FIG TREE.
8. THE CURSED AND WITHERED FIG TREE.
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EXPOSITION OF THE PARABLE OF THE
REV. C. C. Mc DANIEL.
BY REQUEST OF THE AUTHOR
IN the treatment of this parable, which the Saviour spoke to the Pharisees, we feel that what we shall write will be original, for we have not been able in our research to find anything that has been written upon it showing that it is a parable. We might say it is a neglected parable. Here it is (John, tenth chapter):
“(1) Indeed, I truly say to you, he who enters not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up another way, he is a thief and a robber; (2) but he who comes in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. (3) The door-keeper (porter) opens to him: and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he puts forth his own (sheep), he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. (5) But a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers. (6) This parable spoke Jesus to them, but they knew not what things they were which he spoke to them.”
The fifth verse closes that part of the parable which alludes to the fold in which the shepherd had sheep [Page 110] shut up, into which the shepherd must enter by the “door,” in order to “call them by name” and “lead them out.”
1. The fold.
2. The door.
3. The shepherd.
4. The door-keeper. (Porter.)
5. The sheep called and led out.
6. Other sheep.
7. Going in and out.
1. The “fold,” in the first verse, represents the house of
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by His promises to them, His leadings of their posterity through the wilderness and establishment of them in the Land of Promise, and His choice of them as His own peculiar nation, and His preservation of them in all their vicissitudes, had made them as a flock of sheep enclosed. They were indeed said to be His flock. They had been enclosed by His law from all other people, “because they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Their government was a theocracy. Their form of worship was God-given, and proclaimed by its types the Mighty One of Jacob, the Stone of Israel’s faith, the true Shepherd, who would bless them “with the blessings of the heavens above.” Their prophets built their faith on this foundation, and, guided by the [Holy] Spirit, foretold His coming.
And thousands of this chosen
nation in all the centuries before His advent saw Him by faith, and adored Him,
as the true Shepherd, and were led by Him.
Such [Page 111] were the true
But as the day approached when
the Shepherd of Israel should appear, there was a decline. The prophets were all dead. The teachers in
Into this fold the Good Shepherd must enter to call out His sheep who were “hungering and thirsting after righteousness,” but could not be filled, because there was no pasture for the soul in the cold ritual of the Judaistic fold.
To enter this fold as the Chief Shepherd, to call and lead out the sheep into a good pasture, He must enter by the door into the fold.
2. The door. What is it?
A false shepherd would be known
at once by failing to come in at the door.
There was but one door through which Christ, the Good Shepherd, could [Page 112] come,
and that was the door of fulfilment, or “all
righteousness.” He was to come saying,
“Lo, I come to do
Thy will, O God, as
it is written in the volume of the book concerning me.” He must come “in
the days of these kings” - the Caesars. He must be born of a Jewish virgin. He must come before the septre departs from
By consulting, also, John 1: 31-33, we find all this was the will of the Father. He [Jesus] said: “I came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil.”
When He was manifested to
The rich and haughty scribes and Pharisees, with all the rulers, had fleeced and starved the sheep to that extent that they were poor indeed, and so burdened and harassed by oppression that they were “broken-hearted,” and, like prisoners shut up in the dark prison-house, so the true Israel were longing and desiring to be freed, and to enjoy the light and liberty of the sons of God, which they felt the coming of Christ, the true Shepherd, would afford.
The rulers and teachers of the Judaistic fold had taken away the key of
knowledge, had thrust themselves into Moses’ seat, set aside the law by him,
and substituted tradition therefor, and, by teaching and example, exalted
ritualism for or instead of faith and spiritual obedience. Hence they were the destroyers, “thieves and robbers,” who had over-riden the law - climbed over, instead of fulfilling, the
requirements of the law. The time had
come when the Shepherd should be made manifest to
3. The Shepherd is Christ. He had a legal right to be such. In the covenant of grace, the Father gave them unto Him for and in consideration of the redemptive price which His Son was to and did pay for them. He had the right to call and lead the sheep as His own. He had a right to enclose all His sheep within His own enclosure or fold. This He did, as we will subsequently show.
4. The porter, or door-keeper, is pre-eminently the Holy Spirit.
Christ was begotten by the Spirit. John the Baptist was begotten by an earthly father, but filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. He was “sent to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” He preached repentance and faith in Him who was to be manifested. He said he did not know Him. He only knew of Him. It was the duty of the porter to keep the door, and open the door to the Shepherd when He came for the sheep, hence must know the Shepherd. John was only one of the sheep in the fold, who proclaimed to his fellows, by the aid of the [Holy] Spirit, or porter, that the Shepherd was about to appear in their midst, to call and lead them out. And [Page 114] the [Holy] Spirit regenerated the hearts of all those who believed on Him by John’s preaching.
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6: 37. Also see thirty-ninth verse. This “giving is the opening of the door” to Him.
5. The sheep are those who hear His voice and follow Him, as Matthew did.
6. Other sheep from another fold are those from among the Gentiles. “He came to His own,” and as many as received Him, believed on Him, were denominated “the sons of God.” These were those He led out from the Jewish fold. Again it is written: “It shall come to pass that in the place where it is said unto them, ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, ye are the sons of the living God.” (Hos. 1: 10.) These are those from the Gentile fold. Thus the Good Shepherd leads both Jews and Gentiles alike out of their respective folds into one new flock. In entering this flock they pass through the door Christ; for He says in the ninth verse, “I am the door.” These are all fenced by one law, the law of Christ, and hence are said to be one fold.
In this dispensation the visible
Any person who claims to be of Christ’s flock who [Page 115] has not come in by the door is not of the flock. They will not hear His voice, nor do they permit Him to lead them. They are, if in an organized capacity, “the synagogue of Satan.”
7. “Go in and out and find pasture.” This may refer to those of the flock who have been fenced by Christ’s law, and, by disobedience, broken out of the fold, been excluded from the church, yet, if sheep, will find pasturage, divine sustenance, and, after having been chastised for awhile, are brought back to the fold again. It may also allude to going out of the flock here on earth by death, yet his soul shall find pasturage, divine sustenance in life, unto the resurrection. Then shall all such hear His voice, and come forth, and be led by the Good Shepherd into the fold, or city, which has everlasting foundations, “whose maker and builder is God.” There “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev. 7: 16, 17.) “Even so come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.
* * *
THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS
I PLACE the Parable of The Two Sons before that of “The Elder and Younger Brothers,” since the true interpretation of this is a quite satisfactory exposition of the latter, which seems to follow it in natural topical order.
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, Son, go work to-day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented and went. And he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir, and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first.
Jesus saith unto them, Verily, I say unto you,
that the publicans and the harlots go into the
This is the briefest of all the parables of Christ - all of it being condensed into two simple statements with one correct answer. Brief as it is, it is a historical-prophetical parable, and has a purely national application. Its primary sense needs no comment to elucidate it. The Jews, to whom it was addressed, answered it correctly, [Page 117] although they had an indefinite impression, as at other times, that they thereby condemned themselves.
In its deeper and broader meaning, I think the son who was called, and promised to work, but refused, represents the Jews as a nation. This nation, as we have seen, God called His “son” - His “first-born.”
God did twice specifically call
His son, [redeemed]
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; for the Lord our God, He it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed; and the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land; therefore will we also serve the Lord, for He is our God.” - Josh. 24: 15-18.
Let the reader read the whole chapter.
To both calls
Limiting the vineyard service to
the gospel dispensation, the Jewish nation was specifically called of God, by
John the Baptist and Christ and the apostles, to enter His service; and the
crowds that at first thronged the Jordan and received baptism at the hands of
John, and the still larger numbers baptized by the seventy evangelists during
their ministry, and the thousands that gladly received the word at Pentecost
and in the second great revival that followed (Acts 4.),
seemed to be the answer of the Jews, “We will
go;” but still they [Page 118] went not; and for now eighteen hundred years they still
persistently refuse to enter the vineyard.
If any one who reads this knows of one Jewish church in
On the refusal of the Jews to obey this call, the apostles turned away from them, leaving them in disobedience to await their sad and awful punishment, and made the call upon the other son - the Gentiles:
“And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting* life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” - Acts 13: 44-46.
[* NOTE. When the context is one of WORKS, as appears to be the case here, then the word translated “everlasting” should be ‘aionian’ i.e., “age-lasting life”. Only those who are redeemed, are called by God to work in His “vineyard”.]
The cruel treatment they at first received seemed to be their answer - “We will not go into the vineyard.” But age after age this second son has been repenting, and more and more fully entering the vineyard of service.
The prophecy of this parable is the encouraging part of it to all the friends of missions. The son repented and went, from which we know that the fullness of the Gentiles will be brought in. We also learn that the son who promised and went not will not enter the vineyard during the continuance of the gospel dispensation.
THE IMPORTANT FACTS WE LEARN FROM THIS PARABLE
1. The son that at first refused to go afterwards repented and went, from which we learn, most encouraging to the friends of missions, that, despite all the [Page 119] opposition and discouraging obstacles, nevertheless the fullness of the Gentiles will be brought into the service of God.
2. That the Jews are not, in any considerable number, to be converted to Christianity by the preaching of the gospel, or by any human means, during this present dispensation or before Christ comes. The first called, they will be the last to accept of Christ as their Saviour and Redeemer; but then not by missionary effort, but, as Paul was, by a personal appearing of Christ. Paul declares, with respect to himself, that he was one born out of due time - a premature birth - born before the rest of his nation, and yet in the same way as his nation, that is to be born in a day - i.e. by the personal appearing of Christ at His second advent.
3. We learn that the Jews, as a race or people, will not be converted, or accept Christ as their Saviour and Redeemer, until after Christ’s Second Advent. Until then the elder brother (see Parable of the Prodigal Son) will remain without, and this son, referring to the same nation, will refuse to come in.
[4. NOTE. When ones repentance for entrance into the “Kingdom” is an absolute necessity, then it is always
* * *
THE ELDER AND YOUNGER BROTHERS
THE Saviour closed His rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, who murmured because He received sinners and ate with them, with this parable. It is introductory to His teachings concerning “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” - i.e. that the Gentiles are to be made fellow-heirs with the Jews in all the privileges and blessings of the gospel dispensation, and their final restoration to their forfeited heirship in the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
“And He said, A certain man had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into the fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off his father saw him, and had [Page 121] compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy fight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry and would not go in. Therefore came his father out and entreated him. And he answering, said to his father, Lo these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment, and yet thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends; but as soon as this thy son was come which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this thy brother was dead and is alive again, * and was lost and is found.” - Luke 15: 11-32.
[* NOTE. This is a parable teaching RESTORATION: it is not one of REGENERATION as it is commonly believed to be! See Rev. 3: 1-3, R.V. ]
The principal features to be interpreted in this parable are:
1. The elder brother.
2. The younger son.
3. His voluntary alienation and self-banishment from
4. His reckless prodigality.
5. The utter degradation and ruin to which he brought him.
6. His reflections and resolution.
7. His return and reception by his father and the servants.
8. The unbrotherly conduct of the elder brother.
The superficial sense or application of this parable, which the Jews seeing could see, and hearing could hear, was that a son, however un-filial, and even though ruined by his own extreme sinfulness, was still a son, and dear to his father; and his recovery should be sought and considered just cause of rejoicing; and from this fact they could see that a son of Abraham, though deep sunk in sin and degradation, as they regarded “the publicans and sinners” of their own nation to be, were still the objects of God’s compassionate love, and should not be despised by them; and that even Roman publicans, being members of the human family and God’s creatures, were not altogether beyond His compassionate and loving favour, and, should they turn unto Him, they would be accepted. This lesson, notwithstanding the obdurate prejudices that blinded their eyes and deafened their ears, they could see, although its deeper and broader sense they could neither perceive nor understand.
The general interpretations are two:
1. That by this younger and prodigal son Christ intended to represent the sinner of that and of every age, who, instigated by his own innate depravity of heart, alienates himself from God by his own wickedness and plunges himself into utter degradation, at length, convicted of his own extreme sinfulness, and fully awakened to a sense of his utter ruin, arises and returns to the God from whom he had departed.
His being seen by his father a long way off, and being met, pardoned and received as a son by his father, indeed most beautifully and touchingly represents the freeness of God’s love and His abounding grace extended to every penitent sinner who seeks His [Page 123] face and favour; and the joy of the servant falls in very naturally.
This interpretation appears complete so long as the elder brother and his conduct are wholly ignored, and he certainly is quite as important a personage in the parable as the younger son.* But so soon as the question is asked, whom does the elder brother represent? insuperable difficulties arise, two or three of which only I notice here.
* This parable is generally spoken of as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” as though the younger son is the main or only feature in the narrative. This is misleading. I have denominated it as “The Parable of the Elder and Younger Brothers,” which introduces the brothers as equally important persons.
If the younger son represents sinners, the elder brother, who was ever with the father, certainly represents Christians. But who ever heard of Christians becoming offended because God extended His pardoning grace and love to a poor, self-ruined sinner, and refusing to rejoice over the conversion of the most wicked prodigal, and refuse to own him as a fellow-heir with God’s children? But then these Christians were not always with the Father as sons, but were each of them once the children of wrath, even as others. Again, this prodigal, as Major Whittle, the great revivalist, expressed it, was not so much influenced to return through unfeigned repentance as by an empty stomach and a longing for the abundance of food which his father’s servants enjoyed, and one of which he was willing to be, so that his appetite might be satisfied.
Still another difficulty: The prodigal son in the midst of his wanton riotings, and even [Page 124] while in filth and rags he was feeding the swine as he was before he left his father’s house which can in no sense be predicated of an unregenerate sinner.
This so plausible and universal interpretation breaks down under the weight of any one of these difficulties,
and the -
Second interpretation is at once resorted to, and certainly with but little examination: viz., that the prodigal son is intended to represent a backslidden Christian - a son of God by regeneration, who, awakened from his self-alienated and degraded condition, arises and turns himself to
“Seek an injured Father’s face,”
and a place, at least, among the servants in his Father’s house and at his Father’s table. All the parts of the parable fall in naturally and beautifully with this theory until the question again arises, Whom does the elder brother represent who is so offended by the return and reinstatement of his younger brother in the family, and refuses to recognize him as a brother or take any part in the rejoicing? He certainly can not represent Christians; for who ever heard of old church-members - Christians - becoming offended at the reclamation of a backslidden brother, or refusing to rejoice with exceeding great joy, when such an one, however far he may have wandered from his God and from duty, returned with every manifestation of godly sorrow and humble penitence of heart, and confessed all his sin? Who, I say, ever heard of Christians becoming offended at the return of such a “prodigal son,” and refusing to rejoice over him, and opposing his being reinstated as a son and heir among them? [Page 125] They universally rejoice with exceeding great joy. This interpretation, like the former one, although so long accepted as true, must be abandoned as untenable.
The question then arises, “What, then, is the fuller and deeper meaning of this parable, which those scribes and Pharisees to whom it was addressed did not fully perceive or understand?”
With our “pass-key” in hand - viz., that this, as many of the other parables, contains “the mystery of the kingdom of heaven,” that is, that the Gentiles are to be made fellow-heirs with the Jews in the full enjoyment of the blessings of the [millennial] kingdom of Christ we boldly approach to open the door of the deeper, fuller meaning.
The elder son unquestionably
represents the Jewish nation. Of this we
need be in no doubt with God’s word before us.
God expressly said to Moses, “Thou
shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord,
This elder brother
The Gentiles were of a common parentage with the Jews, being the descendants of Noah, and originally [Page 126] members of the same family, and participants of the same blessing - the true knowledge of God. But they sadly and voluntarily departed from God, and the extreme depth of sinfulness and moral degradation into which they fell can be learned from Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 1: 21-32) :
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of women, burned in their lust, one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
The first awakening of the
Gentiles, and the first step of their return, and the first token of God’s loving
favour, was at Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius; and the first note of joy
ever heard in the household over this event was heard in the church at
“When they heard these things they held their peace and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life*.” - Acts 11: 18.
[* NOTE. The “life” here, is not synonymous with the “life” in Rom. 6: 23: the former is based on repentance – i.e., a turning away from sin unto God (a believer’s WORKS of righteousness); and the latter is “life” received (at the time of regeneration) as a “free GIFT,” because of the WORKS of Another – our Lord Jesus Christ.]
From the prophecy of this parable
we learn that the Gentiles are ultimately to come to the light and love of Him
who will be the “glory of His people
“And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” - Isaiah 60: 3.
This returning of this prodigal son commenced, as I have said, the day the gospel was preached in the house of Cornelius, and from that day the elder brother has been offended; and as the feasting and joy have been going on in the family, the elder brother has been standing without, refusing to come in and refusing to acknowledge the prodigal as his brother, and even charging the father with lack of equity and positive injustice in being willing to reinstate the squanderer of his parental estate and the disgracer of the family name, and he is still standing without, and still the halls of the old mansion are resounding with louder and still louder shouts of joy over him who was lost but now is found, and these glad shouts will go on and on, with increasing gladness, until the very fullness of the Gentiles shall have been brought in.*
[* That is, brought in as “first-born” sons of God. See “Firstborn Sons Their Rights and Risks,” by G. H. Lang.]
“The morning light is breaking;
The darkness disappears;
The sons of earth are waking
To penitential tears:
[Page 128] Each breeze that sweeps the ocean
Brings tidings from afar
Of nations in commotion,
See heathen nations bending
Before the God we love,
And thousand hearts ascending
In gratitude above;
While sinners, now confessing,
The gospel call obey,
And seek the Saviour’s blessing -
A nation in a day.
Blest river of salvation,
Pursue thy onward way;
Flow thou to every nation,
Nor in thy richness stay:
Stay not till all the lowly
Triumphant reach their home;
Stay not till all the holy
Proclaim, ‘The Lord is come.’”
* * *
THE LABORERS AND THE HOURS
“FOR the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you; and they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right that shall ye receive. So, when the even was come the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong. Didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that is thine and go thy way: I will give unto this last even as unto you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good? So the last shall be first and the first last; for many be called but few chosen.” - Matt. 20: 1-16.
This parable is generally interpreted from the pulpit as applicable to individuals, the unemployed labourers representing sinners only, and the vineyard the service of God in connection with His church; those who entered early in the morning representing persons brought in in early youth, and the penny received for their labour, salvation; those who were hired at the third, sixth and ninth hours representing those brought in along later in life; while those hired at the eleventh hour represent old sinners of sixty, seventy or eighty years. Who is not familiar with the expressions that such and such a person was “brought in at the eleventh hour,” and “he was an eleventh-hour sinner?” Those who claimed to have borne the burden and heat of the day, according to this theory, are then the old fathers and mothers in the churches.
There are insuperable difficulties opposing this interpretation:
1. The excuse of these labourers for standing all the day idle in the market-place can in no sense be rendered by sinners. These labourers wished to work, and went, as it was then and is still the custom in Oriental lands, to the usual place where day labourers went to be hired, and patiently waited for an offer. Why all did not go to work in the morning was because no man came to hire them, and not because they refused to work. Can the sinner of thirty, forty, or fifty, or any old grey-headed sinner of seventy or eighty, in gospel lands, plead this excuse for refusing to enter the Master’s service - because no man has hired, or offered to hire? Have not all sinners, from their earliest youth, heard the gospel offer, and been repeatedly pressed to enter the Master’s vineyard? But, instead of [Page 131] cheerfully and promptly accepting it, as did these labourers the offer of work, have they not persistently rejected the proffer of salvation, and refused to enter the service of God?
2. Then who ever heard of the old brethren and sisters of a church becoming angry with and murmuring against God, and charging Him with injustice, when they see an old sinner of eighty converted, and rejoicing with as great joy as they themselves ever experienced in the hope of salvation? No one ever heard of such an occurrence, and no one ever will. The oldest members always rejoice over such an one with joy even exceeding that which they express when a young person of ten or fifteen years enters the service.
3. This interpretation is Arminian throughout. Salvation is not the offered reward for work in God’s service; and we dismiss it, trusting no Baptist minister will ever again preach or exhort it in his ministrations, or Baptist Sunday-school teacher so teach it to his class. Salvation is the gift of God through His all-abounding grace in Christ Jesus, and not of works, lest any one should boast. But the Master will reward every servant according to his works. And so faithful is He in this that no one can give a cup of cold water to one of His disciples, in the name of a disciple, and lose his reward.
In the parable of the supper the king made on the marriage of his son, we saw that those who were first bidden, who were undoubtedly the Jews, were accounted unworthy because of their treatment of the king’s invitation, and of his servants who bore it; and that he sent his servants forthwith out into the highways and hedges to persuade all they found to come [Page 132] in, and to pursue this course until his wedding should be fully furnished with guests. The last bidden I interpret as referring to the Gentiles. This prophetical parable of the labourers I understand as referring to the self-same two classes of people - the Jews and Gentiles - but more especially illustrating the fact that the Gentile nations would be, as they have been, called at different periods in the gospel dispensation.
Those who were first called, and entered, represent the Jews, to whom the gospel was first preached. They (a portion of them) did answer its call, and entered the Master’s service. They were the first to hear it, and were the first to answer its call. The first church that was formed was composed entirely of Jews. Paul alludes to this when he says: “If the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” (Rom. 11: 16.)
The hiring of the labourers at
different hours of the day represents the calling of the Gentile nations at
different periods in the gospel dispensation.
The Gentile nations are well represented as standing ready to hear the
gospel call; and they have been hearing and accepting it all through the gospel
age, and been received into the Master’s service; and it is true that some have
been waiting all the day long uncalled.
How true is it that
From the prophecy of this parable we learn that the last one of the waiting nations will be visited by the [Page 133] missionaries of the cross, and that representatives of all nations will ultimately be found engaged in the Master’s service. The blessings granted to one nation will be the same as those bestowed upon the others, irrespective of the earliness or lateness of the hour in which they embraced them.
It is true also that the Jews, as a people, always claimed superiority over their Gentile brethren, and to be deserving of superior consideration; but how true is it that the first called are to-day last, and the last first, in the service of the Master!
* * *
THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT SUPPER
THAT I may more forcibly impress my readers with my conviction that in all the principal parables, beyond their apparent meaning and application, are taught the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven - viz., that the Gentiles are to be brought into the full enjoyment of the blessings of the gospel kingdom as well as the Jews - I present here several additional ones, which none will deny as having, in their deeper meaning, reference to God’s intended dealing with the Jews and Gentiles. One parable rightly interpreted throws a flood of light upon others.
I present first the Parable of the Great Supper, as related by Luke:
“Then said He unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it; I pray thee have rue excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married me a wife, and therefore I can not come. So that servant came and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done [Page 135] as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto his servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may he filled. For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” - Luke 14: 16-24.
Also the same parable as given in its more extended form by Matthew:
“And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth another servant, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment; and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having on a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” - Matt. 22: 1-14.
If not the same parable, it is certain that a correct interpretation of the one given by Matthew will fully interpret the briefer one recorded by Luke.
The great supper and marriage
feast represent the [Millennial]
It will be remembered that during the entire ministry of Christ the invitation to the great supper was confined [at that time] to the Jews only by special command of Christ:
twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go
not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any
city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go
rather to the lost sheep of the house of
The Jews were undoubtedly those who were first bidden. But after His resurrection Christ commanded His heralds to go into all the world, and make the offer of salvation to every rational creature, however high and good, and however degraded, low, mean and vile in the world’s estimation, and, by all the [Page 137] persuasive power and drawing influences of God’s love, influence (morally compel) them to come in and enjoy the gracious feast, and so honour the King. And this commission the servants have been doing from the day that Peter gave the invitation to the Roman nation in the house of Cornelius. And to-day the devoted missionaries of the cross are stepping upon the shores of every known nation of earth to bid the poor, the lowly and the lost to come; and the prophecy of the parable will be fulfilled despite the opposition of the opposers of missions, who thereby prove themselves the opposers of the will of the King who has made the marriage supper for His Son. The faithful servants of the King will still go out; and they will, by God’s favouring aid, continue to gather together of all they find, until the fullness of the Gentiles shall be brought in, and the wedding, bless God, will be furnished with guests.
The question “Who are represented by the man found by the king among the guests without a wedding garment?” has ever been the most perplexing one connected with this parable. That it is not essential to the integrity of this parable, is evident from the fact that Luke omits it altogether. That there is a lesson to be learned from it touching the great doctrines connected with the administration of Christ’s [coming millennial] kingdom, we equally learn from the fact that it is mentioned by Matthew. A knowledge of Eastern customs will help us in the understanding of this as well as the other parables.
The wealth of individuals, as well as the riches of kings and princely men, consisted largely of the number of costly garments possessed by them. These were [Page 138] not cut to the form and sewed up to fit the person as garments are made by us, but cloth of the proper width, cut to the proper length, to wrap in folds gracefully over the shoulders and about the person. The garment that was suitable for one person would fit every other one of the same height.
The wealthy possessed these garments by the hundreds, and kings and princes by the thousands. These were the hoarded “treasures” that, without the greatest care, the moth would consume and render useless.
The presents of kings, and of the wealthy, usually consisted in part, if not largely, of changes of raiment. (See 2 Kings 5: 5.) On occasions of princely and kingly feasts, and especially upon marriage feasts, the guests were presented with a festal or wedding garment befitting the occasion, and, in richness, the rank of the guest. In the case under consideration the man had evidently declined to accept the garment, or had been overlooked through the carelessness of the servants, and his unadorned person arrested the attention of the king when he came in to see if the guests were suitably arrayed to go into the supper, so as to do honour to the occasion. It was because the wedding garment was provided and freely offered to each guest that he might do honour to the king and his son, can we see, that the man was speechless when asked the reason for not having on the wedding garment.
The question then returns, Who were designed to be represented by this man who offered this indignity to the king, and suffered such condign punishment? We think the same class of persons as those represented by the “children of the kingdom” who were denied the right to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom:
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall he given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” - Matt. 8: 11, 12.
Who are these but the
self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who claimed a right to all the
immunities of the
Who are represented by this man but those who will at the last day plead their right to enter into the supper of the Lamb because of the good works they have done in this world in the name of the Christ?
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” - Matt. 7: 21-23.
In a word, then, this wedding garment is [NOT] the righteousness of Christ with which [ALL] the saints are clothed, and which is given to them: “And white robes were given unto every one of them.” (Rev. 6: 11.)*
[* See Rev. 19: 7, 8. cf. Matt. 5: 20, R.V.]
This wedding garment is the righteousness which Paul so much desired to possess in that day, and without which no one will be allowed to enter in to the wedding supper of the Lamb:
“And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” - Phil. 3: 9.*
[* The imputed righteousness of Christ is common to ALL the regenerate; but for entrance into Christ’s coming millennial kingdom, more than this will required, before the time of the resurrection, at His Judgment Seat (Heb. 9: 27. cf. Luke 20: 35; Rev. 2: 25, 26; 3: 21) from those who are justified by faith, as Paul, in the following verses 11- 21 makes perfectly clear. SEE NOTE at end of the Appendix.]
Bunyan, the peerless allegorist, says this is of the professed Christian, destitute of this righteousness, whom
he names Ignorance - i.e. ignorant of spiritual things:
while I was gazing upon all these things, I turned my head to look back, and
saw Ignorance come up to the riverside.
But he soon got over, and without half that difficulty which the other
two men met with; for it happened that there was then in that place one
Vainhope, a ferryman, that with his boat helped him over. So he, as the others I saw, did ascend the
hill to come up to the gate, only he came alone; neither did any man meet him
with the least encouragement. When he
was come up to the gate he looked up to the writing that was above, and then
began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been quickly administered
to him; but he was asked by the men that looked over the top of the gate,
Whence came you? and what would you have? He answered, I have ate
and drank in the presence of the King, and he has taught in our streets. Then they asked him for his certificate, that
they might go in and show it to the King; so he fumbled in his bosom for one,
and found none. Then said they, Have you
none? But the man answered never a
word. So they told the King, but he
would not come down to see him, but commanded the two Shining Ones that
conducted Christian and Hopeful to the city to go out and take Ignorance and bind
him hand and foot, and have him away. Then they took him up, and carried him
through the air, to the door that I saw in the side of the hill, and put him in
there. Then I saw that there was a way
to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of
* * *
PARABLE OF THE WICKED HUSBANDMEN
“THERE was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and
hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in
it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near,
he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen
took his servants, and beat one and killed
another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he
sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen
saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures,
The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and
it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore I say unto you, The
The interpretation and
application of this parable is
clearly learned from the forty-second and forty-third verses. The only possible
question that can arise is, What institution did
Christ refer to by the phrase “the
1. It must be a visible local institution, or it could not be visibly removed from one locality to another, or from one nation to another, and such a removal or change of place be seen to have taken place; otherwise the Jews, nor others, could not have known whether the prophecy of its removal had ever been fulfilled.
This kingdom, then, could not
have been the ideal conceptional invisible
2. This kingdom can not refer to that peculiar system of religion known as the Jewish economy, because that was intended for the Jews only, and never has been, and never will be, transferred to another nation. Its design has been consummated, and that economy has been forever abolished from the earth.
3. Nor can it refer to the Jewish commonwealth, called into existence by the covenant of circumcision God made with Abraham, because that is an everlasting covenant; and its promised blessings, and the token and seal of that covenant (circumcision), can never, by the express declaration of God, be transferred to any other nation or people, save the natural descendants of Abraham.*
* If it can be supposed that, in after ages, anything, as water baptism, has been substituted for circumcision, it remains equally true that no other people, or persons, save the Jews, can receive water baptism.
The kingdom, therefore, which Christ refers to in this parable must be that kingdom which Christ, by His prophet Daniel, foretold He himself would set up on this earth in the days of the kings or emperors of the fourth and last universal empire, which was the Roman. (Dan. 2: 44.) It must be the kingdom which He sent His herald, John the Baptist, to proclaim as at hand in the days of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3: 1), [Page 144] and which Christ himself, in His first public proclamation, also declared was at hand.
It was a visible and therefore local kingdom, which, according to the word spoken by Daniel, He
came to this earth to set up - an institution that He could remove from one nation to another. A
kingdom is composed of parts – constituents - integers. Nebuchadnezzar’s
kingdom, we learn from Daniel, was constituted of provinces as its parts, or
integers - one hundred and twenty; and these provinces were the only executives of the laws of the kingdom, and were the only visible form of his kingdom. These provinces
were composed of peoples in professed subjection and loyalty to the one supreme
head of that kingdom. This
The most authoritative writers on ecclesiology indorse this position.
A. P. Williams,
“Jesus Christ has a kingdom on earth, and He has churches. No one of His churches is His kingdom, but each one is an integral portion of His kingdom.” - Work on Commentaries.
Then it follows that the aggregate of Christ's true churches constitute His kingdom.
E. J. Fish, D. R:
“The churches are the executives of the laws of the kingdom.” - Ecclesiology.
church [i.e. churches] is the visible, earthly form of the
As one province may constitute a kingdom, and so long as there is but one, that province and kingdom would be synonymous terms, indicate and refer to the same institution; and as one State may constitute a republic, so one church could, and did, represent the kingdom of Christ so long as there was but one body; but when the churches were multiplied, then the kingdom was no longer represented by one organization, but by the sum total of all of them.
So Christ sent John the Baptist before His face to make ready a people prepared for Him - the proper [Page 146] materials for a church were to be the nucleus of His kingdom. John prepared these by preaching the doctrine of repentance towards God, and faith in the Christ to come, and baptizing them upon this profession, and satisfactory evidence given him of it.
This people, so prepared, Christ received, and they constituted this perfect church on earth, and it alone represented His kingdom, “the kingdom of heaven,” so long as He had but one church. This was at first, and during the ministry of Christ, given to and confined to the Jewish nation only. Its subjects and officers were Jews only. Its privileges and honours were offered to Jews only.
As some teach that the kingdom of heaven was not in existence during Christ’s ministry, I submit the following Scriptures demonstratively proving that it was, so that only a mere caviller will dispute it.
1. Both John and Christ declared in their first proclamations that “the kingdom of heaven was at hand.”*
* In answering a letter we often say, “Your letter of the 1st inst. is at hand.” What do we mean?
2. Mark tells us that John’s preaching was the beginning of the gospel of Christ. (Mark 1: l.)
3. Matthew 11: 12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence [i.e. is assailed, assaulted or opposed], and the violent take it by force” [i.e. seek to destroy it]. An invisible or non-existing kingdom could neither be assaulted, nor would its enemies, if it could be conceived to have any, seek to destroy it.
“The kingdom of heaven is here (Matt. 11: 12) conceived of as not simply near, but as in actual existence, [Page 147] and as having begun to exist with the beginning of John’s ministry.” – Broadus’ Commentary in loco.
It was, therefore, a visible, real kingdom composed of His true churches.
4. “The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of heaven is preached, and [the correct rendering is] every one [all men] assault [or oppose] it.” This rendering agrees with Matt. 11: 12, while the common rendering would contradict it. The kingdom could not be assaulted or opposed, and, at the same time, all men so love it as to press into it.*
* We submitted, some years since, our translations (i.e. Matt. 11: 12; Luke 16: 14) to Prof. J. R. Boise, D. D., LL. D., of Morgan Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, and this was his reply: “Your questions suggest a new and, to my mind, more satisfactory interpretation of Matt. 11: 12. 1 think the clause may be rendered literally: ‘The kingdom of heaven is treated with [hostile] violence; and violent persons are trying to ravage it [harposonsin, used de conatu].’ This meaning is certainly in keeping with the classic use of the words, and also with the verses following.” Touching the passage in Luke 16: 14, he says: “The ordinary use of the words does seem to me more naturally to denote the violence of hostile forces - that of the scribes and Pharisees, which resulted in the crucifixion of our Lord. Nor can I see that this interpretation is inconsistent with the context, particularly that which follows in Matthew. That eis, with the accusative, may mean against is unquestionable. Kai pas eis auteen biazetai (Luke 16: 16) may certainly, so far as the Greek is concerned, be rendered, ‘Every one is violently opposing it.’ In this remark our Lord may have had in mind the rich and powerful - the leaders of society; and this thought may naturally have suggested the Parable of the Rich Man. (Vs. 19-31). This view of the verses in question is adopted by Lightfoot, Scheekenberger and Hilgenfeld.”
5. Matthew 21: 31, 32: “Verily I say unto you, [Page 148] that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” And it was by faith and obedience they entered.
They certainly could not enter the kingdom before it was set up - in existence. But how did those publicans enter the kingdom? “And the people that heard Him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of Him.” (Luke 7: 29, 30.)
6. Luke 17: 20, 21: “And when He was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of
God should come, He answered them and said,
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo
here! or, lo there! for,
7. Luke 11: 20:
“But if I with the finger of God cast out devils,
no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” Christ did cast out devils by
the finger of God, for He himself was the very God; and who will presume to
doubt that the
Christ foretold that His kingdom, which was given to the Jews at its first establishment on earth, and had continued solely with them during the ministry of John, His own and that of His seventy disciples, should be taken from them. This was literally fulfilled a few years after His crucifixion, by taking the gospel of the kingdom from them and giving it to the Gentiles, and thus transferring His kingdom from them to the Gentiles: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting [i.e., Gk. ‘aionian’ or ‘age-lasting’] life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13: 46)
When during the ministry of Christ it belonged to the Jews only, in no sense can the kingdom now be said to belong to them or any considerable number of them, to be members of His kingdom; nor am I warranted by Christ’s own declaration in believing that the kingdom will in any degree be restored to them, or they brought into it during this gospel dispensation, and therefore I do not consider that Gentile Christians are in duty bound to expend their time and means in preaching the gospel to them.
Mark also the statement of Paul:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to
Let us read a few prophecies as to the manner of their conversion to Christ.
They, as a people, are again to see His face in the midst of great affliction:
“Ye shall see me henceforth no more till ye shall say, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’” Matt. 23: 23, 39.
“And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.”- Zech. 14: 4.
will pour out upon the house of David,
and upon the inhabitants of
day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the
Thus those who fall on this stone in sorrowful penitence are broken to be healed and lifted up, but the rebellious and impenitent upon whom it falls will be ground to powder. How could the Jews who heard Him fail to perceive that He spoke of them?
* * *
PARABLE OF THE BARREN FIG TREE
“HE SPAKE also this parable. A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it. And if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” - Luke 13: 6-9.
This parable is generally interpreted from the pulpit to refer to the probation offered to impenitent sinners or the fate that awaits the barren Christian.
I can not think that Christ intended it to be applied to impenitent sinners, for reasons, viz.:
1. This was not a thistle or a thorn bush, but a fig tree, in itself a good tree. It needed no change in its nature for it to bear good fruit, as every impenitent sinner does.
2. Nor can I think Christ intended it to be applied to individual Christians, since He would by it teach that Christians are under the covenant of works, and their [eternal] salvation depends upon the fruit they bear - their good works. But Christians are not under the law, but under grace. With them it is not do and live; but Christ says to His children, “Because I live ye shall live also.” And the inspired apostle said [Page 152] to Christians in his day: “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; and when He who is your life shall appear, ye shall appear with Him in glory.” (Col. 3: 3.) The Christian’s [eternal] life is secured - depends not upon his bearing fruit, much or little - good works - but upon the existence of Christ, who is his life. He must therefore live so long as Christ lives.
Nor can it be supposed that a Christian can live here all his life without bearing some fruit to the glory of his God. His very existence as an illustrious example of God’s love and redeeming grace is fruit to the glory of God’s saving grace; and his very life is an evangel. But that Christian never yet lived, nor ever will live, who did not or will not bear those richest and most excellent fruits of the Spirit - faith, hope, love, the spirit of obedience, etc.
Christ says: “If ye love me, keep my commandments; and if any man love me he will keep my commandments.” The spirit of Christ was the spirit of obedience; and “he that hath not the spirit of Christ is none of His.”
Love for the children of God is an inseparable mark of the child of God, as good works are of the existence of saving faith; for faith without works is dead - i.e. not a living, but a dead, false faith.
With these and many other considerations that might be mentioned, I dismiss the idea that this fig tree was intended to represent a child of God; and to so teach and preach it is to make this parable misteach God’s word.
I think Christ referred to the Jewish nation. God was the planter of this fig tree. The dresser and intercessor represents Christ.
The Jewish nation was, as a vine
or fig tree, brought up out of
God would have been just in the sight of all His angels had He dealt with the Jews as He did with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and Nineveh, when they rejected His counsels against themselves, by rejecting, as they did, the ministry of John the Baptist; but the Dresser interceded for God’s forbearance for one more year - yet a little while longer - consenting that if at the end of that time the tree did not bear fruit it should be cut down without a word of remonstrance. We have a right to conclude that the fig tree was spared another year. The Jewish nation was likewise spared, and the gospel preached in all their cities and villages with the demonstration of the Spirit, in the performance of untold and most convincing miracles, wrought before their eyes, until they wilfully rejected it, and crucified Christ himself.
This parable is fully pre-interpreted by Isaiah:
will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very
fruitful hill; and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine press therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants
THE CURSED FIG TREE WITHERED
THE SENTENCE OF DEATH AGAINST THE JEWISH NATION EXECUTED
We see the prefigured execution
of the sentence of the owner of the vineyard upon the barren fig tree in
Christ’s treatment of a barren fig tree that mocked His hunger with leaves
only, as He and His disciples were returning one morning from
“And when He saw a fig tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever [Gk. ‘to the age’]. And when the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” - Matt 21: 19, 20.
The fate of the Jews and their
“And when He was come near He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace - but now are they hid from thine eyes! For the days shall come upon thee that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” - Luke 19: 41-44.
This prophecy was literally
fulfilled in less than forty years afterwards in the complete destruction of
* * *
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MATTER AND MANNER
1. THE IMPORTUNATE NEIGHBOUR
2. THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW
3. THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN
4 THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
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THE IMPORTUNATE NEIGHBOUR
WHAT TO PRAY FOR AND HOW TO PRAY
“AND it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’ And He said unto them, ‘When ye pray, say:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.’”
“And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I can not rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall he opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your [Page 160] children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” - Luke 11: 1-13.
I have placed not the parable only but the whole context before the eyes of the reader for his better understanding of its true scope.
While Jesus was praying in a certain place, a little apart from His disciples, and they doubtless looking on and impressed with His whole manner, and wishing to be instructed as to what to pray for and how to pray acceptably, and remembering that John taught his disciples to pray, one of them came to Him and said “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” He immediately complied by giving them both the form and matter of acceptable prayer. This I call not the Lord’s prayer, but a Christian’s prayer. Christ never prayed it. He could not. For the Lord’s prayer see John 17.
This prayer was not intended for all men, but for Christians only- the children of God - because none but such can pray it. To say, “Our Father,” is to assert a claim to spiritual relationship, and there is no such relationship existing between God and a sinner; it would be a falsehood in his mouth. Christ said:
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father ye do.”
“Our Father” is an expression of filial love, and no unregenerate person possesses such an emotion, and it would be a falsehood on his lips. The common Fatherhood of God is a delusion. He is the Father of only those who are His children by faith in Christ Jesus. It is as true of all the unregenerate as it was of the unbelieving Jews.
But of children Paul said:
“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father” (i.e. Our Father). - Gal. 4: 6.
“Hallowed be Thy name.” No sinner, young or old, can say this. No sinner ever hallows or adores the name of God, or can truly or acceptably worship Him.
“Thy kingdom come, and Thy will be done in earth as in heaven.” No sinner ever prayed this, or can pray this. He does not want the will of God to be done with himself or on the earth as it is in heaven. This language would be little less than blasphemy against God on the lips of sinners.
But in this prayer Christ taught His apostles and His disciples, to the end of time, what to pray for.
Of this prayer it has been eloquently said: “It is a remarkable collection of petitions, and Scriptures which contain within themselves the elements of every true prayer that can ever be offered by the faithful heart to our Father in heaven. Each want of the renewed soul, each object of its most anxious desire, everything for which it can pray aright, lies enfolded in some one or other of the petitions of this prayer as the majestic oak lies wrapped up in the acorn. The more we meditate upon the paragraphs of this prayer the more profound and comprehensive do they appear; no human mind can grasp the full meaning of any one of the sentences of this prayer, or sound the depths of its spiritual mysteries. It carries in itself the proof that Christ is divine; for only a mind possessing divinity could frame a prayer that should concentrate every possible aspiration of the soul, and every known attribute of the Godhead.”
Having taught His disciples what they should pray for, He next proceeds to teach them by parables and illustrations occurring in His daily ministrations how to pray, and commencing with the parable before us.
The key-word to this parable, as brought out by Christ, is importunity in prayer: “I say unto you, [Page 163] though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” And for the encouragement of His disciples then around Him, for all to the end of the dispensation, he adds:
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” - Luke 11: 9-13.
From this parable we learn:
1. That it is the duty of all Christians to pray daily. “Give us this day,” is to be daily prayed.
2. That this prayer, called the Lord’s prayer, was intended for Christians only, and can and should be prayed by Christians only; and, therefore, our children should not be taught to say it over - for pray it they can not - and it is but a vain repetition on their tongues and a mockery.
3. We learn that it is right to pray for others;
4. For our prayers to be acceptable, and prevailing in the sight of God, we should feel our need, and be,
* * *
THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW
“AND He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for awhile: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” - Luke 18: 1-8.
The scope of this parable is simple and clearly stated by Christ before uttering it, viz.:
1. That men ought always to pray.
2. To pray, and not to faint.
It was spoken to His disciples, and for the comfort and encouragement of His elect ones in all ages until prayers and tears are no more. Prayer has ever characterized the children of God in every age. It is as natural to a Christian as his vital breath. It is the breath of his soul. That His disciples might be encouraged to pray, although their prayers were not immediately answered, Christ relates this parable.
The two characters introduced into this parable are -
1. An unjust judge.
Of this judge two things are said: “He feared not God, neither regarded man.”
Both Homer and Euripides use this as a proverbial expression in their day, denoting consummate and unblushing wickedness - a man totally abandoned to all evil, capable of any injustice or atrocity. It has been said, “Take away the fear of God, and you fill the soul with every inward sin, and make it a cage of unclean birds.”
Take away from a man “a regard for man, a proper respect for human opinion, when sound and wholesome, and you surround him with every outward sin, and make him a selfish despot, grinding out from his fellow-men whatever may contribute to his own lusts or aggrandizement, reckless of their happiness, and solicitous only for his own. Strike from the heart of a man both these elements, and you make him a monster with a human shape but a devil’s heart.”
With such a moral monster in the seat of law and equity, and the people will be forced to take up the lamentation of Isaiah: “Judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off, for truth is fallen in the streets and equity can not enter.”
2. The other personage is a widow.
Bereavement, friendlessness and poverty naturally cast their cold, dark shadows over the word. Oh! how like a vine torn from its tree by a rude blast, or a stroke from the passing storm-cloud, is woman when “death” writes “widow” upon her broken heart! What heart is not moved to sympathy and kindness at the very word? It gives to this parable its peculiar [Page 166] interest and pathos, that touches every heart, and at once enlists all our sympathies in behalf of this woman.
That she was without friends, true and strong, we gather from the
fact that she comes in person and alone to plead her cause, instead of through
a powerful friend or advocate. That she
was poor, we
gather from the fact that oft-coming and urgent prayer was her only recourse, and not a full purse, which was the
only thing that could move this judge to give a favourable hearing. It was for the glittering bribe he waited, but in this instance waited in vain. Had he feared God, the curse uttered from
“Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless. Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen!”
This widow did not come to entreat this judge to revenge her upon, or to punish, her adversary - some one who had wronged her.
The word here translated “avenge” means “obtain justice for me from my opponent.” It was justice, not revenge - simple justice from her opponent - she came so often and sought so earnestly from this judge. She only besought him to do his simple duty - the duty that he had taken a solemn oath in the name of God and before men to do when he entered into his office. This act of simple justice he refused to grant. But not to be easily put off, and so confident of the justness of her cause, she came “oft,” again and again, and each rebuff only served to increase the urgency and persistency of her appeals. She was not compelled [Page 167] to urge her case in his regular office hours, but she could, and doubtless did, in the public concourse, and wherever she met with him, until she positively annoyed him; until he was moved by purely selfish considerations to listen to her. And he reasoned thus with himself: “Though I fear not God, neither regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me I shall give her justice, lest by her continual coming she weary me;” literally “wear me out” [or ‘pester me’.] Tyndale, in his version made three hundred years ago, translates this “lest at least she come and hagge on me.” Hagge, in old Anglo-Saxon, means a witch-fury, goblin or enchantress. To hagge any one was to harass, torment one. And, moved by pure selfishness and fear of some indefinable evil she might bring upon him, he, at last, granted her request.
Christ makes the application of His parable:
“And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find [the]* faith on the earth?” - Luke 18: 6-8.
[* NOTE. The definite article ‘the,’ is shown in the Greek text.]
God, for an all-wise purpose, often bears long with the earnest supplications of His children - delays until it seems to them that He does not hear, or is unwilling to answer their petitions. Is it not that they may fully realize their necessity, and so the more fully appreciate and enjoy the blessing sought? Is it not that He may increase their faith by a severe trial of it?
This parable only serves to emphasize the last one we considered; and both this and that give force to the declaration of the apostle: “The earnest, wrought out of prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
There are two striking instances in the ministry of Christ that illustrate how pleasing to God is importunate prayer when offered for others, and encourage God’s children to be importunate in their petitions when offered for others, and disprove the teachings of those who say that prayer to God is only availing for good by its reflex influence upon the petitioner, which reduces it to a mere spiritual gymnasium.
1. The first is the case of the Syrophenician woman:
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan
came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him,
saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David;
my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered her
not a word.
And His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us. But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of
Had she asked but once, and ceased to ask, we are not authorized to believe that her daughter would have been relieved.
2. The second notable case is that of the Roman centurion, or captain, related by Luke:
“And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus he sent unto Him the elders of the Jews, beseeching Him that He would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus they besought Him instantly, saying that he was worthy for whom He should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when He was now not far from the house the centurion sent [Page 169] friends to Him, saying unto Him, Lord, trouble not Thyself, for I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof; wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee, but say in a word and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers; and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things He marvelled at him, and turned Him about and said unto the people that followed Him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.” - Luke 7: 2-10.
From the parable, and these illustrations from the ministry of Christ, we learn that importunity, conjoined with faith, are two essential elements of prevailing prayer.
The reader will readily call to mind the most noteworthy instances of such prayers. Jacob, when he was aware that on the morrow he would meet his deeply injured brother, Esau, who had come out with an armed band with the intent, doubtless, to avenge himself upon him, went apart from his family, and spent the whole night wrestling in earnest prayer with the angel, who was none other than the Lord Jesus himself, seeking from Him the blessing of pardon for his sin against his brother Esau, and protection from his just indignation; and, when the day was dawning, and the angel would have left him, saying, “Let me go, for the day breaketh