In these parables we have the character and importance of the word shewn, and its effects. The object of revealing truth in this manner is made known to us by the Lord in His answer to the disciples, saying, "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." Parables, then, we find, unfold the word to those who already know Jesus; and they are spoken consequent upon the unbelief of the Jewish people, amongst whom the Lord had previously ministered, and cast out devils, and healed the sick, and who then, in the very principle of apostasy, had asked a sign. The character of this evil and adulterous generation is spoken of as having corrupted themselves; their spot is not the spot of God's children; they are a froward generation, children in whom is no faith; and here it is as though He were just declaring, "I will hide my face from them, and see what their end will be." And this is the reason why He speaks in parables. The spirit of unbelief was clearly developed in the Jews after His taking the utmost possible pains with them, and then He hides His face from them, telling them their condition is this, "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation," Matt. 13:43-45. Having seen this then, we see that the parables are the unfolding of mysteries to those believe.
The Lord, as the Apostle of our profession at His first coming, spoke the word of God; and when He returns to judge the world, He will judge by the word which He has spoken, as He says, "The word that I have spoken the same shall judge you." The Lord's testimony was of grace, expressive of all that God was in grace to sinners. And when He comes again, He will come judging by it. Having given the mind of God, He returns to heaven; and then He returns as King to judge by the word which He had spoken.
In the first of these parables, we find the Lord going forth sowing the seed. I would speak of the effect and operation of this. The six following parables have a very distinct character.
278 The first three unfold what goes on in the world, consequent upon the sowing of the seed; and the last three, the mind of Christ internally as regards the effect.
First we have the seed sown in the field; and parallel to this is the field bought for the sake of the prize which He knew to be in it. The grain of mustard-seed becoming a tree in which the birds of the air lodge, is the indiscriminate place of shelter afforded by the organisation of professed doctrine: on the other hand, we have the pearl of great price, and understood in its value by a merchantman; here we find the spiritual understanding of Christ, and what every Christian has in his measure. The leaven, which is a corrupt and a hidden thing, leavens the whole three measures of meal; that is, a given part is filled with it. The whole from the field is gathered, and the whole of the net is drawn to shore, and then comes the separation.
We always find in the interpretation of parables and symbols, more is included than the parable or symbol states. So here, the explanation states what the Son of man should do when the angels are sent forth. And here we get the Lord's judgment consequent upon the effects of the seed sown and that which follows - even that all things that offend and do iniquity shall be gathered out of His kingdom and cast into a furnace of fire, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth; and then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The interpretation here embraces more, and carries us farther than the parable itself. So in Daniel 7. We have first a vision declaring the power of four beasts, and of a little horn which should come out of them; then their destruction, and the setting up of another kingdom: but it is in the interpretation, in verses 18 and 22, that we learn that the saints of the Most High shall possess that kingdom.
These interpretations carry out the child of God into the next dispensation. In the parable of the tares, the servants ask if they shall gather them out; that is now, at the present time: but the interpretation shews us what takes place consequent upon the time which the parable describes. Christ came into the world and sowed wheat, the devil sowed tares; this is not simply unconverted men, but the operation of Satan to injure and mar the work of God. There were unconverted men before Christ came, and Satan presented adequate temptation to man's pride, covetousness, and self-esteem to guide them to his principles; and this is the wise man of the world. But there is another thing now. Satan comes to introduce mischief where God had introduced good. The world is not now in its natural state. Jesus as the Apostle of our profession has come and sown good seed; but while men slept, the enemy has come in upon this, and sown tares to injure and corrupt the profession of the church. It may be great and flourishing in appearance as the tree; it may fill the three measures of meal as the leaven; but it is a corrupt thing.
279 But to confine myself to the parable of the tares; it is not only the weeds of the field, that is natural evil, but the subtle evil of the tares growing up to a harvest of judgments; that is the church nominally: but where were they to be let grow together with the wheat? In the world. There is not to be the judicial process of excision here. The Son of man sows; the Son of man, as king, gathers out of His kingdom all things that offend and do iniquity; but what is this but the condemnation of a judicial process of excision in the world now by the saints? This is not to be executed until He comes.
I take notice in passing that this has nothing to do with discipline, because this is exercised in the church, on the children, or on those we hope to be such; while the proposed excision was to be exercised on the tares - those known to be tares - that is, discerned iniquity.
The parable of the net cast into the sea comes within the class which is the subject of the spiritual apprehension of disciples only, and is addressed only to them, its very subject being within the scope of their understanding only; while on the other side it presents the gathering of a company out of the world, in which good and bad are alike found, the process on which is the subject of their occupation and apprehension, and which the fishermen who draw the net carry on and not the angels.
Note here, the servants or the fishermen are not occupied with the bad. Extermination from the world was not their business. Here the dealing with good is the subject of the parable; the explanation determines the portion of the bad. So the tares are gathered into bundles to be burned; and before they are cast into the furnace of fire, the wheat is gathered into His barn. We find in this the separation of the saints from the evil, and not the carrying into effect the judgment of the wicked; the good are gathered previous to the judgment upon the ungodly. In the parable, we find they are told to gather together the tares in bundles ready for the burning, but they are not told to burn them; then the wheat is to be gathered into a barn, a place of security. But in the explanation, there is the gathering out of all things that offend and do iniquity, and, they are cast into the furnace of fire; and then the righteous (before gathered into the barn) shall shine forth in the kingdom of their Father. The principles of iniquity and the providence of God now go on together. First, the tares are gathered, and then the wheat; then the tares are judged and the good shine forth: that is, first of all, we have the practical separation, the providential gathering of the wheat out of the way of judgment into the barn, and then the actual judgment of the tares, and, consequent upon that, the wheat shines forth. When the fish are separated we have (not the good shining forth in glory, but) the good gathered into vessels, and then the bad destroyed.
280 In this parable of the tares we find Satan was waking, and men were sleeping, and the effect produced is the mixture of the evil and the good; and this is now the work of the devil, mixing evil with good in this world; and we can still say "an enemy hath done this." Competence to remedy it is another thing. But let us settle this as a first principle: that if we see evil and good mixed in the profession of Christianity, this is the work of Satan; and, remember, the tares are not simply unconverted men - there were plenty before the Lord came - but the tares are the work of Satan consequent upon His coming.
Is the thing the Lord proposes, in sowing the seed, to set the world right? No, for the servants ask, Are we to root out the tares? and the answer is, No, they are to grow till the harvest. In the world the process of mixture will go on till then, when the Lord will interfere Himself. Here then we have the express revelation, that the idea of setting the world right by the word comes not from a spiritual understanding. But the Lord's answer to whence these things came, and whither they should be, is, I have bought the world for the sake of the treasure that is in it; and the saints learn to their comfort, that the good are gathered into vessels while on the shore, that is, while they are practically together, and of course while they have to contend with open and subtle evil; and this we must expect in the world, until He gathers out of His kingdom all things that offend and do iniquity.
281 In the practical application of this, it is of great importance to see that the mixing anything with God's wheat is sanctioning the iniquity of the world. If I see anything with the spirit of the world, or the power of it stamped upon it, I see a plant which is not of the Lord's planting; and if I see this mixed with Christianity, that which is of Christ, and that which is not of Christ, I say, "an enemy hath done this." We have been slumbering, but the enemy was awake. The spirit of a believer necessarily involves total separation from the world, for where there is a spirit to join the world, there is not the Spirit of God, but the spirit of the world. But this state of things will not go on for ever. I would ask you, dear friends, whether there be in you this recognition of the total separation in spirit which these things mark out to us? If this is not the case, we are either the natural weeds of the field, or what Satan has sown to do mischief. You may be those God will convert, but you are one of these, or you have the principle in your hearts, and the love of the world is enmity against God.
The thing of price to my soul is that Christ is coming. The beauty and glory of Christ is clearly opposed to the things of the world. Are your hearts under the control of the spirit of obedience? or if the Lord were manifested, is it the thing you delight in? Because He will appear the second time without sin unto salvation. And you who love Christ, cannot you discriminate between Christ and this heartless evil world? Have you given up its interests and its intercourse, save in doing good? Can it be that the things by which Satan governs our hearts are topics of mutual interest to Christians and to the world? No. All that is of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. The world is alienated from God, and if mixed up with the saints, it is "an enemy hath done this." The saints of God, taught of Christ by the Spirit, know that it is an enemy. May the Lord press its truth, dear friends, on your hearts, that you may be separated from the world. The Lord shew you it is impossible to mix these things, and keep you from the wish to do so.