The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven

F. W. Grant.

This booklet is in print with Moments with the Book:

1. What the Kingdom is.

There is perhaps no term in Scripture so largely used and so little understood as that of "the kingdom of heaven." Yet its importance must be (in some measure at least,) proportionate to the frequency of its use. It is only, indeed, one book — the Gospel of Matthew, — in which it is found, though there thirty-one times; but the kindred expression, "the kingdom of God," is used much more extensively, and in some parables in other Gospels is found in its stead. Taken together, these expressions have a very large place in the New Testament, and their interpretation will correspondingly affect a great deal of Scripture. I propose, therefore, a serious examination of the doctrine of the kingdom as covered by these terms, and to inquire as to the practical bearing of the doctrine also, which assuredly there must be, for "all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

"The kingdom of heaven" is a New Testament term, then; but it has its roots in the Old Testament. The idea is found in the germ in Daniel, in the prophet's words to Nebuchadnezzar, who, effectually humbled by his durance among the beasts, should learn by it that "the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26). This is expanded afterward into the thought that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (v. 32). Here we have but the idea, however, — the rule of God, supreme necessarily over men. Here there is no thought of a special, limited, dispensational kingdom. This "dominion," as the king himself says, "is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation" (v. 34).

"The Times of the Gentiles"

But the book of Daniel carries us further than this in the direction we are seeking. Historically and prophetically both, it has for its scope "the times of the Gentiles," of which the Lord speaks (Luke 21:24), — that is, of Gentile supremacy over Israel. But this is the consequence of her sin, and of God's controversy with her, and it means the interruption of His own dwelling in her midst, as of old He did, and as He yet will do. For Jerusalem shall yet be, saith the Lord, "the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever" (Ezek. 43:7).

The "place of His throne" had been given up before Nebuchadnezzar could lay waste the city and the temple, and a notable change, therefore, is found in the Old Testament books which give us the history of that solemn and important time. The ark had been the symbolic throne of Him who "sitteth between the cherubim;" and as "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" it had passed through Jordan to take possession of the land (Joshua 3:11). Now the glory had left its dwelling-place on earth, as Ezekiel had seen (Ezek. 10:18; Ezek. 11:23), and the very decree which ordains the rebuilding of the temple is that of a Persian king to whom the "God of heaven has given all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Chron. 36:23; Ezra 1:2).

This is no mere casual expression. It is characteristic of the books of the captivity — of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel. Although the eternal throne of God can never be given up, yet a dispensational throne is now removed; and this is what characterizes the times of the Gentiles, — a responsible throne on earth which is set up by God, and yet not God's throne, not the kingdom of God. For the kingdom of God men must wait, but in hope; for the kingdom of God shall come.

Daniel accordingly shows us the end of these Gentile empires, and beyond them all a wholly different one: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44).

This is in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, but the features of this final kingdom he is not able more distinctly to see. The vision granted later to the prophet (Dan. 7) develops, as we may easily see, the spiritual significance both of the Gentile powers and of that which supersedes them. For the king, the image has the form of a man, though with no breath of life in it; and there is brilliancy enough, though increasing degeneracy. But to the prophet's eyes there is no human form, no unity; plenty of life and vigor, but bestial. On the other hand, as to the final kingdom, though not much is seen as to detail, one feature newly given is of the sweetest encouragement. It is that the government is in the hands of One like a son of man, under whom the saints too possess the kingdom.

Here, then, is a "kingdom of heaven" — a heavenly rule on earth, — a final world-wide triumph of righteousness and peace. We recognize it as that of which all the prophets speak, the expansion of the first prophecy of the victory of the woman's Seed, — the unforgotten goal and purpose of the ages.

The Kingdom Announced

Old Testament prophecy soon comes to an end after the voice in Daniel has uttered itself. There is a long pause of expectancy, and then one more than a prophet takes up the burden of those many years past, and announces the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But the people are not ready: and the voice is of one crying in the wilderness, a priest who has forsaken the sanctuary, and stands apart from men. The baptism of repentance must precede the remission of sins. The mountain must be leveled with the plain, that the way of the Lord may be prepared.

Then there is another Voice, and He who was announced is come. The kingdom is presented, now with the signs and powers which make good its claim, and are ready to establish it among men. Nothing is wanting, except, alas! the loyal hearts that should greet their divine King; but here is a lack that nothing can compensate for. The more fully manifested, the more fully He is rejected. He finds in a Gentile the faith He cannot find in Israel (Matt. 8:10). And thereupon declares that many shall come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The King Rejected

The steps of His rejection it is not necessary here to trace. The twelfth chapter of Matthew already shows it complete. His mighty works, instinct with the power and love of God, they ascribe to Beelzebub, and He warns them that for blasphemy against the Holy Ghost there is never forgiveness. They sought signs, but none should be given them but the sign of the prophet Jonas, the Son of Man three days and nights in the heart of the earth. The chapter ends with the solemn disowning of natural ties: whosoever did the will of His Father in heaven, the same was His brother and sister and mother.

This introduces the thirteenth chapter, in which seven parables give us the prophetic character of the kingdom of heaven as it now is, the King rejected and away. Instead of finding fruit in His vineyard, He goes forth to sow the seed of fresh fruit among the Gentiles. Speaking in parables, because hearing they heard and understood not, He instructs His disciples in the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (v. 11), — that is, in things not forming part of what had been revealed in Judaism, things which had been kept secret from the foundation of the world (v. 35).

Two Forms of the Kingdom

We see, in fact, in these parables that while the essential idea of the kingdom of heaven is preserved, the form of it is widely different. It is still a kingdom of heaven, and in the hands of the Son of Man; not yet, however, established in power, but committed into the hands of men, and of men who fail in the administration of it. Thus there is disorder, and a possibility of evil even in high places, — purging and rectification needed when the King comes in power. "He shall send forth His angels, and they shall purge out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." The mysteries of the kingdom terminate thus in its manifestation. The kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:9) looks on to His kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 3:12), when the fruits of the present sowing-time are husbanded.

These two forms of the kingdom of heaven need to be distinguished carefully. The Lord's address to Laodicea very plainly distinguishes them: "Him that overcometh will I give to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father on His throne." It is as Son of Man He is seen in these addresses; His own throne, therefore, is clearly what is His as Man, in contrast with the Father's throne, the divine one. It is plain at once that while His saints are promised to sit with Him upon the one, none but One Himself divine could sit upon the other.

The Lord has, then, a present kingdom; but in it we can serve only and not reign. We are "translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son" (Col. 1:13). The time for Christians to reign cannot be yet; cannot be till He takes the kingdom in the form in which the Old Testament shows it, — comes as Son of Man, and reigns publicly.

It is with His present kingdom we are now occupied. This is established in a very different way, namely, by the sowing of the seed — "the Word of the kingdom." The kingdom extends no further than as this is, in some way, "sown in the heart." Yet it may not be savingly. It is the sphere of profession and privilege that is before us. The devil may take away that which was sown in the heart. The man may have no root in himself, the heart being a "heart of stone." Or the springing up of what is native to the soil may choke the good seed so that it is unfruitful. By and by, among the wheat also the enemy sows tares. All this is a picture of the kingdom.

There may be other aspects of it, and there are. We may be called, as in the last three parables of this series, to look at the divine plan and purpose, which cannot fail of accomplishment; but from the human side there cleaves to it ever the idea of condition, of possible failure, of a mixture of evil with the good, of coming judgment needed to rectify this. If the idea of mercy come in, it is still conditional, never pure grace, as witness the parable which closes the eighteenth chapter of the same gospel.

The King is away, the administration in the hands of man in the meantime: this accounts for most of the characters we are considering. It is the distinctive, fundamental feature of this "mystery"-form; and as such, we must now examine it more attentively.

2. The Kingdom in the Hands of Men.

The kingdom in its present form is established and ruled by the word of an absent King. Being absent, it is clearly His word which speaks for Him, — which represents His authority. His kingdom is a kingdom of truth, according to His own words to Pilate, who asks Him, "Art Thou a king, then?" And He answers, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice" (John 18:37).

"Master" — or "Teacher" — "and Lord" are necessarily associated in thought. "Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am" (John 13:13). "Master" implies of necessity, an authority, in Him absolute: and in this full sense He says to His disciples, "One is your Master, even Christ" (Matt. 28:8). To receive His word is thus to bow to His authority: His word is, as in the parable (Matt. 18:19), "the word of the kingdom." His subjects are thus nothing else than His disciples, and discipling is now into the kingdom of heaven — "every scribe which is instructed into the kingdom of heaven," in the end of the same chapter (Matt. 13:52), is literally, "discipled."

The Sphere of Discipleship

In the parables of the kingdom thus we find pictured the sphere of discipleship, embracing true and false alike. There are tares and wheat, fishes good and bad, wise and foolish virgins, guests that have not on the wedding-garment, servants that have never truly served at all. The end declares the difference; and in the end the Son of Man purges out of His kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity. Till the harvest (which is "the end of the age" — not "world"), the tares and wheat, the good and the evil, are found together.

The kingdom, then, covers the whole field of profession. Those in it may be or may not be what they assume to be; and thus blessings of it are conditional accordingly. People may enter it in two ways; there is an outer and an inner sphere, as it were, in the kingdom itself. There is a mere outward belonging to it, not in heart: there is an inward and real entering in, to which salvation attaches: "Whosover shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved." It is here, of course, not merely a "Lord, Lord," but a true subjection of soul to Him.

All this will come out more as we go on with our subject. Yet it is well to realize it at the outset; for it makes simple much that otherwise would be dark and difficult enough. The conditionality of every thing is in accord with the general idea of a kingdom, where government, though it be gracious, is not yet pure grace; and where grace is shown, not in setting aside requirement, but in enabling for its fulfillment. This is how the children of God, as subjects of the kingdom, manifest themselves; and there is a whole class of passages in Scripture which, speaking in this manner, are often misread alike, yet in two opposite ways, by those who would maintain and those who refuse the full reality of divine grace toward men. The one class would take Paul's expression, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others I myself should be a castaway," as meaning only that his service might be disapproved; while the other will have it that Paul fears here for his ultimate salvation. Neither view is correct: the term "castaway" is that translated "reprobate" in 2 Cor. 13, and it is of himself he speaks, and not his service. While the New Testment assures us, in its whole testimony in many concurrent lines of careful teaching, that true Christians "are not of them that draw back to perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39).

Binding and Loosing

The kingdom of heaven, then, in the form in which we are now considering it, is a kingdom of the truth, by subjection to which its true disciples are manifested. We are now to look at it as committed into the hands of men, the Lord being absent. It is plain that He uses men to minister "the word of the kingdom," and that a certain administration of its affairs is intended in the words, "whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," "whose sins ye remit, they are remitted to them." The nature and limit of these assurances we shall have to inquire into immediately, but that the disciples are in some sense commissioned to represent their Lord, is clear and unequivocal.

The first of these we find for the first time in a promise given to Peter, when in the midst of nearly universal unbelief he confesses his faith in Christ as the Son of the living God: "Blessed art thou, Simon bar Jonah," replies the Lord, "for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:17-19).

The keys of the kingdom are symbolic of authority over it; and almost the same language the Lord uses of Himself in the address to Philadelphia — "He that hath the key of David; that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth." The Pharisees He denounces for shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men: "Ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13). And to the lawyers He says similarly (Luke 11:52), "Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered."

All this agrees with what we have before seen — that the kingdom is a kingdom of the truth: thus the key speaks of entrance into the kingdom, and the entrance into such a kingdom is by the key of knowledge. The key speaks thus really, if not exclusively, of the power of discipling.

The power of binding and loosing, according to the Rabbinical writings, belonged to and described the office of a teacher. "The Rabbi set apart to 'loose or bind' might authoritatively declare what was binding on the conscience and what not; and in Talmudical writings, the phrase continually recurs by which a teacher or a school is said to loose or to bind, — i.e., to declare something obligatory or non-obligatory."* It is plain, then, that if the power of the keys speaks of entrance or admission into the kingdom, — of discipling, — that of binding and loosing applies to the regulation of the conduct of those already admitted or discipled, whatever may be the limits of this power. The latter naturally connects itself with the former, and follows it.

{* Edersheim's "History of the Jewish Nation," p. 405.}

There remains the question, Was the power of the keys personal to Peter only? The Romanist, it is well known, not only makes him the rock upon which the Church is built, but gives him in a special way the keys of heaven. The Church is, however, as distinct from the kingdom as the kingdom of heaven from heaven itself. With the former we have nothing to do just now: as to the latter, it is well to remark that the promise itself limits itself to earth as the sphere of this binding or loosing. "Whatsover thou shalt bind on earth" does not mean "whatsoever thou, being on earth, shalt bind," but just what it says. The earth is where only the binding applies; and "shall be bound in heaven" means simply that heaven being for the kingdom the seat of authority, it would confirm the act of its representatives on earth. On earth, — for earth, — alone is there power, though he who rebels against it rebels against the authority of heaven. It is as where the Lord says, "He that receiveth you receiveth Me" (Matt. 10:40). The delegated power on earth represents the authority behind it.

But even for Rome, the keys belong not simply to Peter. There are successors to his chair. And the Protestant view, in which they represent the power of administering the Word and sacraments, must of course admit others as participants in this. Nor need there be a doubt that as Peter's faith was but the faith of the other disciples, so they as well as he participate in this promise. No doubt as his energy makes him foremost in confession, so also he retains a foremost place throughout; and so at Pentecost he opens the kingdom of heaven to the Jews, as afterward he is chosen of God to open it to the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius. But we can scarcely think of these two instances as being the only use made of the keys of the kingdom. The power of binding and loosing which is here also explicitly promised to Peter, we find in the eighteenth chapter of the same gospel (v. 18) extended to others also; and if the power of the keys be the power of administration or of discipling into the kingdom as we have seen, then the commission in the closing chapter explicitly extends this also: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth," — the kingdom was just ready to begin, — "go ye, therefore, and teach" (or, as the margin and the Revised Version now, "make disciples of") "all nations." And that here successors are contemplated is plainly taught in the closing words: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

Thus the administration of the kingdom is committed to men. They are to initiate and receive others into it; they are to regulate it for and under Him. So completely is it intrusted to their care, that in the gospel of Mark the Lord represents the kingdom of God to be "as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how" (Mark 4:26-27). Not, of course, that His care over His people sleeps; but outwardly things happen in that which is professedly in subjection to Him without any open interference on His part. "But when the fruit is brought forth" (or "ripe," in the Rev. Ver.) "immediately He putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." So will He presently put in the sickle; for, spite of man's doing, the harvest comes in its due season.

Yet in the meanwhile the kingdom takes strange shapes, and because it is true that He will have His harvest, and because it has been forgotten that the seed springs and grows up He knoweth not how, it has been taken for granted that if the kingdom of heaven is in the Word of God said to be "like" such and such things, — "like" mustard-seed, or "like" leaven in a woman's hand, — this decides that all is according to His mind. In fact, it is far otherwise; for this expression, "He knoweth not how," if it does not mean to convey, as we know it does not, any real ignorance, then does certainly imply that the growth spoken of is strange, irregular, as if He knew not. So it is said, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Ps. 1:6). And if it be the fact of course that He knoweth the proud, yet to distinguish it from this approving knowledge it is added, "The proud He knoweth afar off" (Ps. 138:6).

So of the growth of His kingdom in man's hand it may be truly said, He knoweth it not, or He knoweth it afar off; no new thing, alas! of that which comes of man's responsibility; here the words of the Psalmist surely apply, if any where, "Man being in honor abideth not" (Ps. 49:12). Dispensation after dispensation has illustrated this rule: none have confirmed it more signally than the present.

Thus in the second parable of Matt. 13 it is "while men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat" (v. 25). Thus, "while the bridegroom tarried," the whole company of professed watchers, wise as well as foolish, "all slumbered and slept" (Matt. 25:5). But the history of this declension we shall look at, if the Lord will, at another time. We have yet more precisely to see first how the kingdom of heaven is entered, and what are the divine regulations for it. To appreciate the disorder, we must learn first of all the order; for it is plain that God has not committed it to man's mere will, but to his charge. He is to bind and loose, not despotically, but as himself in subjection to the will of Another. We must return, therefore, now to the subject of the keys.

3. The Keys of the Kingdom.

The mere expression, "keys of the kingdom," shows clearly that there is a definite mode of entrance, and that the kingdom is not in its present form territorial, as the kingdoms of this world are. A Christianized country, for instance, is not by this, or any the more for it, a part of the kingdom of heaven. Men do not come into it by natural birth, as they do into these. There is a mode of entrance, a method of discipling, not in the hands of the men of this world, but in the hands of disciples only. There is a door by which to enter, and which is in their keeping.

Moreover it is a double door. There is not merely a key, but there are keys to it. We need not be afraid to insist upon the Lord's words in their full meaning; nay, we are bound to insist upon this. His words are precise, and require loyal acceptance; we must neither add to nor yet take from them.

This sets aside (as any sufficient application) what is often taken as explaining this commission to Peter that he was the first to preach the gospel to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and to the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius afterward. It does not take two keys to open the same door twice, that is plain. And the proclamation Of the gospel to men outside is by itself no real admission of any. It is the offer of its blessedness, but men must be received individually, and for this a distinct form of admission is prescribed.

We have seen that the Lord speaks of the key of knowledge, that the kingdom is a kingdom of the truth, its sphere that of profession, of discipleship; that people are discipled into it. But the key of knowledge is plainly only one key, and we need yet another before the door will open. The other we find in the commission given by the risen Lord to the eleven after His resurrection, in which He is about to ascend to the throne of the kingdom, — all authority given to Him in heaven and in earth; He instructs them as to discipling the nations: for so it really reads, "Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:19-20).

"Baptizing" and "Teaching"

Here there are two keys: "baptizing" and "teaching" are the joint methods of discipling. In the one we have the key of knowledge; in the other that which as the outward part authoritatively admits into the body of disciples upon earth. Without this latter there would be no proper recognition of the body as such, nor of individual relationship to it, nor representation of the King's authority on earth.

Baptism is "unto Christ" (Rom. 6:3), "unto the Name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8:16), a putting on of Christ (Gal. 3:27). It is a separation to Him as Master and Lord, as by the cloud and the sea the Israelites were marked off as followers of their divinely-appointed guide, — "baptized unto Moses" (1 Cor. 10:16). "Unto the Name of the Lord Jesus" — not "in" — defines it as the recognition of His Lordship — of the throne as His. Thus Paul also is exhorted by Ananias, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the Name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Thus also in Eph. 4:5, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," are joined together.

And thus as a "baptism unto death," Christ having died for us, it is a "being buried with Him by baptism unto death, … that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead … so also we should walk in newness of life." It is thus for us the passing out of the old into a new condition; a change in which our sins are washed away; as the apostle, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;" and as Ananias, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins."

"Whose sins you remit they are remitted to them," the Lord had said before this; words which cannot be applied, as some would apply them, to the preaching of the gospel. We do not, in the gospel, remit any one's sins. We do what is more blessed: we declare on God's part the terms upon which He remits. "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:38-39). It is the declaration of the forgiveness of a certain class, but it does not declare any one to be of that class, or to have received the forgiveness. And when a soul through grace believes the gospel, and receives forgiveness, — though it were I that preached it, it is still not from me that he receives it in any wise, — it is not I that remit. Here is a thing in which God and the soul meet personally, and not by representatives. And it is of the greatest possible moment to maintain this. It is just here that popery brings in her falsehoods and builds the Church up into a barrier wall to shut God out into the old darkness.

Disciples have no place in the administration of such forgiveness. They are no more the channel than the source of it. God has not given this glory of His to another; and after this manner none can forgive sins but God alone. Let us only keep clear the distinction between heaven and the kingdom of heaven, and it will be impossible to make such mistakes as these. The kingdom of heaven is but the shadow of heaven upon earth. It witnesses to what is heavenly, finds its authority and sanction there, but remains still only the shadow. Useful and important in its place, it becomes only so much the more important that it retains that place. To confound the shadow with the substance is to degrade and displace both.

"I baptize with water," was John's answer to those who would have implied that, not being the Christ, to baptize was to invade His office. No use of water could possibly do that; and with water "Jesus Himself baptized not." No water can wash the soul; no spiritual transformation could be wrought by it. Divine power never works such marvels. The Creator uses His creation according to the sphere to which it belongs; for which He made it; and Creator and Redeemer are but one blessed God. The mysteries of Babylon the great are no Christian mysteries, but magic. The perversion of truth manifests them as not from above but from beneath.

Water Baptism — A Figure and Witness

When, therefore, baptism is spoken of as for the remission of sins, and when the Lord says, "whosoever sins you remit they are remitted unto them," it is certain that He does not mean that the water of baptism has power to wash the soul. What then is this remission? To understand this we must recognize it as the entrance into the kingdom, that in which one is received out of the outside world into the ranks of Christ's followers and subjects. It is plain that ideally the crossing of the line here is salvation — "the like figure whereunto even baptism Both also now save us" (1 Peter 3:21). To cross the line in spirit is true salvation, and to this grand truth the whole figure witnesses. The controversy with the world is for the rejection of Christ; submission to Him means the controversy over, "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). Yet the activity in salvation is all on His side; men baptize not themselves, but are baptized. And this is the confession of guilt, of being under death; it is burial, yet to Christ, to His death: there is the power of life, not in baptism, but in Him to whom we are baptized: "Buried with Him by baptism Tinto death, that, as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4).

There is thus really a witness to the gospel in baptism which is beautiful in its simplicity. No subtlety of understanding is needed for entering into it. No complexity of thought is here. Man's guilt and helplessness, and need of the work of Christ are vividly portrayed and powerfully enforced in it; while also the freeness and certainty of salvation are fully declared, and the blessing appropriated on God's part to the one received. Wilt thou have Christ for thy Lord? wilt thou indeed take thy place as His subject and disciple? Then here is remission of sins, here is salvation for thee, through the work of Christ which He accomplished for thee; take thy place among His disciples a saved man!

It is to be no doubt if He receives thee. He casteth out none. As surely as thou comest thou art received. "Repent and be baptized every one of you unto the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

Thus the preaching of baptism is a clear, simple, straightforward gospel, with good holdfast for the fingers of drowning men. There are no refinements, and there is no doubt. So only could it represent the salvation of Christ, which is yea only, and not yea and nay, — rest, and self-torture.

But then it is evident also that this is but the shadow, the witness of salvation, not the salvation itself. Not all that are baptized are saved, alas! and this from no uncertainty in the gospel terms, but from uncertainty only as to the reality in the soul of the disciple. And in regard to many, how much uncertainty must there be. And this is expressly contemplated in those parables of the kingdom, in which the mysteries of it are shown forth. Ten virgins go forth alike to meet the Bridegroom; but five of them are wise, and five are foolish. The wedding is furnished with guests, but among them comes the one who has not on a marriage-garment. And in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, at the close, this very matter of forgiveness is taken up, and we are taught in the person of the pitiless servant that forgiveness in the kingdom is not the full and absolute forgiveness which the gospel preaches, but conditional upon character. If the professed disciple turn out to be not one in heart, then the remission grounded on the supposition becomes finally no true remission. The blessings of the kingdom are all conditional and reversible.

Baptism, then, is admission into the kingdom of Christ, out of a world of sin, lying in the condemnation of it. It is reception among those to whom as His own remission belongs. But, as administered by man, the blessings and privileges of it must be received by faith or not received. And this reconciles the fact of baptism as admission into it with what the Lord says as to the necessity of conversion: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). This is indeed the necessity for the class to whom the Lord addresses Himself. Discipleship means no less than this, if it be real. To enter into the kingdom is not merely to come into it in an outward way, but to come into it in spirit also, to be really subjects and followers of the Lord of the kingdom.

But this does not at all imply that people cannot be in it except as converted. The parables that the Lord uttered as to it show the reverse of this. Tares are in it as well as wheat; foolish virgins, as well as wise; in the end of the age, the Son of Man will send His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all that offend, and them which do iniquity. Thus the kingdom will be freed: but they must be in it to be gathered out.*

{* Our Lord's words to Nicodemus on the other hand are really different; and I do not ground this upon its being the "kingdom of God," of which He there speaks. While the kingdom of God gives a somewhat different aspect, it is true, it is nevertheless not a different thing. Parables of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew's gospel are in the other gospels parables of the kingdom of God, and among these are those of the leaven and the mustard-seed. But what makes the words of John's gospel different is that the Lord is speaking in them to a Jewish teacher with direct reference to Ezekiel's prophecy of Israel's conversion in the latter day (Ezek. 36:24-26). And this is how, in fact, they will be brought in, the sinners still remaining such being consumed out of their midst by judgment. Thus Isaiah speaks also of the time (Isa. 4:3-4), — "And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem; when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning."

That the Lord's words had a wider application than to Israel I do not for a moment question, but it is of the kingdom in its future state He speaks, when that which offends, and those who do iniquity, are removed from it. A teacher in Israel should have known the absolute necessity of such a change as new birth for the enjoyment of the blessings the prophets had declared.}

But the breadth of the kingdom we must look at more fully now, and together with this the relation to what by many is strangely confounded with it, — the Church, of which the Lord speaks to the apostle in the words preceding those we have been seeking to explain.

4. The Breadth of the Kingdom.

There is no need to produce further proof that the kingdom covers the whole profession of Christianity. A glance at the parables should settle this. But we have to see yet that it goes beyond even what we can properly call profession; that discipleship goes beyond this; the kingdom being indeed exactly commensurate with this last, — ideally, with the whole of the baptized.

And here I am reminded that in what I shall have to say I must speak contrary to the convictions of many beloved brethren, and seem, perhaps, even in speaking, to make light of these. I do not in the least, but sympathize fully with the strength of their feelings regarding the dishonor done to Christ, and the injury done to men's souls by views widely current as to baptism. Babylon the great has been built up by the use of bricks for stones, and slime for mortar, — the substitution of human manufacture for divine creation, — of a "sacramental host of God's elect" for those "baptized by one Spirit into one body." And in the hands of these builders baptism has been made to build up a "great house" with vessels to dishonor, from which we are called to purge ourselves if we would be "vessels unto honor" (2 Tim. 2:20-21). Protest against this false ritualistic system can hardly go too far or be too strongly maintained.

Water Baptism is Not Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The baptism of water has been confounded with the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and infants have been supposed to be regenerated by it, and made partakers of a life that gave no sign, and bore no fruit for God, and but deluded those who trusted in it. Then, as they could not say that every one so baptized was fit for heaven, they had to send a large part of these man-made children of God to hell, and most of the rest to purgatory to be purified by fire there. While yet, without this baptismal regeneration, not even a little babe could go to heaven.

The fundamental error here is twofold: first, in confounding, as already said, the natural and the spiritual spheres. Water cannot cleanse a soul, nor impart spiritual life. It may be "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," but not "a means whereby we receive the same." Secondly, in confounding heaven and the kingdom of heaven, or again, the kingdom of heaven and the Church. And from these last two, Protestantism has not in general, any more than Rome, escaped. The distinction between the two leaves a place of privilege and conditional blessing, which is not the Church, and yet which is not the world either, save as it is untrue to its character, and the principles of the world may leaven it. And this is what Scripture attests would happen, and history shows has happened.

But man's unbelief cannot make the faithfulness of God without effect. The kingdom of heaven, with its message of peace and reconciliation, remains the testimony of a love which goes out to all, and would gather in to God wherever the will of man is not hardening itself in opposition. We do not, in fact, in Scripture meet with that long delay of baptism, and that preparation of catechumens, which came in as baptism itself came to be looked upon as reception into the Church, and the symbol of the full Christian state. In the New Testament the catechumens were inside, not outside, the sphere of discipleship. Instead of being kept waiting at the thresh old, the applicants were met with a generous and unsuspecting welcome. Three thousand were baptized on the day of Pentecost: how much preliminary instruction had they? And if, as at Samaria, a Simon Magus were received, with his heart not right in the sight of God, his reception had not defiled those tender arms of mercy which had been flung around him, and from which he had, as it were, to burst, to pursue the headlong path to everlasting ruin. I say, it is evident upon the face of Scripture, that baptism was not then fenced round, as many now would fence it round. It was a door, not carelessly, but readily and with a full heart, opened to the applicant for it. No question of Christ's heart, no "if thou wilt" was to be permitted.

But notice also, no hint of the Church of God is connected with this, its occurrence even in Acts 2:47 in the common version being a copyist's error. The doctrine of the Church was revealed to Paul much later, and he who "received of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:23), as to the institution of the Supper, had no commission to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17). In the first is involved the question of communion; in the second, the responsibility is only individual.

Baptism of Children

This wider character of the kingdom we see further in our Lord's words as to the little children brought to Him. "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," are words which become very plain when we have seen what the kingdom is. In these little ones is no resisting will, and divine love would lay hold upon them for its own. Once see that the kingdom is not heaven, but a sphere of discipleship on earth, you can no more stumble at the thought of baptizing them than of taking them into your Sunday Schools. They belong, the Lord says, to His school at all times, and here He would meet them, put His hands on them, and bless them, as when on earth He did. The great arms of the Redeemer will not wait even for their final choice of Him to be made manifest, but would Will them, prevail upon them by their tender clasp, mark them as His in His will, whatever even in the end may be their own. How precious is this thought of His, which then He turns to us to help carry out: "Bring them up," He says, "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).

They are His disciples, taken into His school, and to be brought up for Him. And who would, as such, reject them? Is it not because of the superstition which has been connected with the thought, and the confusion between the kingdom and the Church, that so many now reject the baptism of infants as a popish figment, while they would do for them gladly the very thing which baptism implies, and rightly think it any thing but popish?

Let us remember that baptism is not to take them to heaven as a charm, but to mark them as belonging to Christ's school on earth; that, as far as it goes, it is "baptism unto death," not life; burial, the putting the dead in death, where they belong; but in that touching confession of their need, baptizing them "unto Christ," "to His death," looking for all to come to them, not from the water, but from Christ, through His work for them, which we thus own. Find me in this one shred of popery or superstition, any one that will. It is only the sweet and suited, open and apparent action of One who says in it what He says of old: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven": words that charm our hearts, beloved brethren, and command our allegiance.

This character of the kingdom, then, is a beautiful one, that it represents to us the very character of Him who is on the throne of it, — the grace that casts out none that come, that would fain receive all, even those who break away at last from its shelter. Yes, such is the love of Jesus; and to me, while I own the difference of the dispensation, and do not want to press uncertain analogies, yet it seems only the more suited that He, who in the days of law recognized the children of His people in the mark of circumcision, should now, in the grace that is come in with Christianity, not leave them without some corresponding mark. I am assured He has not done so; and the confusion and evil in His kingdom cannot affect the grace of it, or make it less certain that His kingdom it is. And when the limit of His patience has been reached, love it will be still that will act, the rod of iron will be the Shepherd's rod.

But we must now consider more attentively the distinction 'between the kingdom and the Church.

5. The Kingdom and the Church.

To most Christians perhaps, even at the present day, the kingdom and the Church are one. The Church practically is the whole body of professors: what else is the kingdom? They would not deny that these are different aspects, — that the thought connected with each is different, but they are aspects only of the same thing. We have now, then, to consider how far this difference extends — whether it be only of thought, or of the things themselves.

The kingdom we have seen to be the sphere of discipleship; the Church is, in its fundamental idea, the body of Christ, — it is the unity of His members. Notice that that action of the Spirit by which we are brought into this body is called "baptism:" "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). Scripture, by adopting this word in this connection. institutes a comparison, thus, between the kingdom and the Church. But the one baptism is an external rite; the other, inward and spiritual. The error of identifying the two spheres has led to that of identifying the two baptisms; but the one is in the hand of man, the other in the power of God alone.

The Church is not only the body of Christ; it is also the house of God: and under this figure of a house the Lord first speaks of it in the gospels, — "Upon this rock I will build My Church." Peter, taking up and extending the Lord's words, shows us this building and its foundation clearly: "To whom coming. as unto a Living Stone, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:4-5). But Paul it is, to whom the doctrine of the body of Christ was committed, who first explicitly calls the Church, as indwelt by the Holy Ghost, the house and the temple of God (Heb. 3:6; 1 Cor. 3:19). As the Church, then, is in the kingdom, which is yet wider and external to it, it stands with respect to the kingdom as the temple to its outer court. In the former, the priestly family drew near and worshiped; in the other alone, the Israelite of the common people. Peter identifies, as it were, the house and the priesthood: "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood."

The house and body were, in God's design, and for a short time at the beginning, exactly commensurate. The one was composed of living stones, the other of living members. But men with their bad building have done as was foretold: they have unduly enlarged the house. They have built in "wood, hay, stubble" (1 Cor. 3:12- 17). Thus the house is become "as a great house," in which there are vessels of gold and silver, of wood and of earth, and some to honor and some to dishonor." And it will be purged from its disorder only when the Master comes.

But we have not here to think of the disorder, but to look back to the beginning to get the true design of the divine Architect. The more simply we can do so the better.

In the kingdom, then, we have individual responsibility, conditional blessing, a place of privilege to which man has authority to introduce his fellow; in the Church, a place of absolute grace, relationship to one another, communion: and here belongs another institution which expresses this. Paul, the special apostle of the Church, to whom it was given to complete the doctrine of it, was not sent to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17). But he has, by distinct revelation from the Lord, the institution of the memorial feast, in which not only do we symbolically "eat the Lord's flesh and drink His blood," but in which also it is expressed that "we, being many, are one bread, one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 11:24; 1 Cor. 10:17).

Baptism and the kingdom speak of conditional blessing and individual responsibility; the Church, and the breaking of bread, of already-enjoyed (therefore absolute) grace, and fellowship in it, relationship to one another and the Lord. The kingdom is the outer court of the sanctuary; the Church, the house of God, the sanctuary itself. The first affirms God's desire toward all; the last is the espoused object of Christ's unchanging love.

It may thus be seen why Paul, the "minister of the Church" as we have seen in a special sense, claims to be also specially the "minister of the gospel" (Col. 1:23), and to have as his peculiar mission "to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17), the last in some sort of opposition even to a commission to baptize. So he speaks of "my gospel" (Rom. 16:25), associating with it the "mystery" of the Church. And, as has been fully shown by others, in fact it is Paul who alone speaks plainly of justification and of our place in Christ. With the other inspired writers it is rather forgiveness, although I do not say that there are not passages which look beyond this.

In the kingdom, the twelve are to sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). Here we cannot imagine a thirteenth throne for Paul. The commission to baptize, we have seen, was given to them also, although Paul takes it up and acts upon it, as we all do since.

Paul thus completes — as the sense is in Col. 1:25 — the Word of God. The complete truth is given through him, and hence he preaches also the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25). All lines of truth we shall find in his epistles who in his own person is the expression of the perfect grace of God. Nay, in a sense, he can bring out the very truth of the kingdom itself with more distinctness, because he is able to give along with it the full position and standing of the true believer.

Accordingly, nowhere so fully as in Paul's epistles do we find the warnings as to a fruitless profession with which we are so familiar. He who can say, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under law, but under grace," can on that very account the more insist that "to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness" (Rom. 6:14, 16). The freedom to which God has called us, the power with which He endues us, make the service of sin now so unutterably solemn; because it is manifestly on man's part the choice of evil: it is man's will in rejection of the grace of God.

On the other hand, even he in the experience of the seventh of Romans can still say, "The good that I would," "the evil that I would not," while of Christians characteristically it is said, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). The true Christian, conscious of the grace of which he is the subject, and established in a place which is unchangeably his, is just the one who submits himself joyfully to all the conditions of discipleship; and this is what Paul does in those words of his so often misinterpreted, (Rom. 9:26-27) — "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others I myself should be a castaway." He is here speaking as a disciple under the rules of the kingdom, — as a disciple to disciples; but he knows not only how to tread the courts of the Lord, but how, as a priest, enter the sanctuary also, and to say, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us: who can separate us from the love of Christ?"

Here again, to keep the kingdom and Church distinct, throws light upon the Word. Never will you find these conditions insisted on where it is a question of the child of God as such, or of justification and the place in Christ, membership in the body of Christ, or any thing which implies that divine grace has indeed wrought in the soul. All such conditions apply to the disciple — to all disciples surely, but as such, — to the kingdom, the court of the temple. The Church is the temple of God itself, the place of enjoyed nearness and settled relationship.

Three Spheres in Ephesians 4

Before we close this, it will be well to notice how the apostle separates these different spheres in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians. His seven unities there comprise and are divided into three concentric circles of blessing, of which he begins with the innermost and proceeds outward. The innermost circle is that of the Church: "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." Next, we have that of the kingdom: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Outside, again, is the world; not, of course, in the evil sense, but as the creation of God: "one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." This is the Scripture classification, which it has been our object to establish here.

6. Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew Thirteen.

Seed-sowing and its Results

We have now seen what the kingdom is, and learned the general principles by which to interpret that parabolic teaching in which the Lord was pleased to convey to us most of the instruction which we have concerning it. Of these there are first to be considered the seven parables of the thirteenth chapter, in which we have its prophetic history from its commencement in the seed sown by the Lord Himself, until the mystery-form is ended by His appearing in the heavens. It is plain that this alone will close it, as it is that this is what is contemplated in the parables themselves; but we shall have to look at it fully at another time in answering some objections which have been raised to what I believe the true interpretation of the last parable.

In the twelfth chapter, the Lord, in announcing His death and resurrection, has declared the rejection of Israel. No sign further should be given them but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for as Jonah had been three days and nights in the whale's belly, so the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And thereupon He shows what would be the result to that wicked generation which had rejected Him (Matt. 12:41-45). His new relationships would be with the doers of His Father's will, and with these alone (Matt. 12:46-50). This manifestly would exclude the nation of Israel in their unbelief, while it would bring in any and every believing Gentile. Judaism, with its narrow restrictions, was therefore gone.

A significant action on the Lord's part introduces the parables of the thirteenth chapter. He leaves the house, to sit by the seaside. Let any one compare the picture of the woman that "sitteth upon many waters" in Rev. 17:1, and he will find the meaning of this. The angel interprets it for us in that chapter: "The waters where the whore sitteth are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (v. 15). So here the Lord is leaving the house, the place of recognized natural relationship, to take His place, as it were, in the highway of the commerce of the world, which the sea is. And there, to the multitude upon the shore, He begins His parable with "Behold, a sower went forth to sow."

But Israel had been His vineyard, long ago planted, fenced, and cared for, according to His own words at another time (Matt. 21:33). From it He had looked for fruit, not as a fresh field to sow it for harvest. From Israel He had to "go forth" elsewhere, with that "word of the kingdom" already by them rejected, to get fruit for Himself with it in the field of the world at large. For "the field is the world," as He Himself interprets to us, — not a chosen nation, but the whole earth.

We are at once, then, brought face to face with what has been going on during the whole of the history of Christendom. The results, as the Lord gives them here, are before our eyes.

The seed is "the word of the kingdom" (v. 19), the declaration of the authority and power of One rejected and crucified as "King of the Jews." Raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, He sits upon the Father's throne, all authority in heaven and earth being given unto Him who is exalted to be at the same time "a Prince and a Saviour." This is the seed He sows, and the sowing is always His, though He may use others as His instruments. The form the kingdom takes, therefore, is not as it will be yet — set up by almighty power, to which every thing must needs give way. It is offered for man's acceptance. It may be rejected. Faith is still to prepare the way of the Lord, and it is seen in result that "all men have not faith." In the kingdom predicted by the Old Testament prophets, and yet to be upon the earth, a "rod of iron" will break down all opposition. Here, on the contrary, it shows itself at once in its three fundamental forms — as devil, flesh, and world. Three parts of the seed fail thus of fruit. Not only is there distinct and open rejection, but also men may receive the word outwardly, and thus become subjects of the kingdom, and yet be quite unfruitful and merely self-deceived. Thus in some of its general features the world of profession all around us is portrayed.

The Wayside Hearer

The first class represented here comes before us in the way-side hearer. In him the power of Satan is seen, though in such a manner as to leave the man himself fully responsible. It is solemn to read even of such an one, that the word was "sown in his heart" (v. 19). That does not imply conversion. He does not even "understand." But why? Because, as with the way-side, the ground on which it is sown is too hard-trodden for the seed to penetrate; and it lies exposed to the birds of heaven, tempting, as it were, the tempter to "catch it away." Of such souls there are many: preoccupied with what hardens and deadens them to other influences — be it business, be it pleasure, — lawful or lawless: it is the effect here that is noted, little matter how produced.

Still the word is "sown in the heart." Marvelous power of the Word of God, which, wherever it speaks, carries with it something of its divine authority. The "inner man of the heart" is reached, and made aware of that which brings with it its own evidence and claims. "By manifestation of the truth," says the apostle, "commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Not every man will own how he winces under the truth. But he does wince. "Light" is there, consciously to the soul that turns away from it even, but turns away because conscious it is light, and loving darkness rather, the fit cover of evil deeds.

These moments of conviction, who that has ever listened to the Word can be a stranger to them? Nor does it follow that the Word is understood in any proper sense. It is felt as light, detecting the thoughts and intents of the heart; and the one who feels, and turns away from it because he feels it, falls thus under the devil's power. The impression made is soon removed. The seed sown is caught away. The poor dupe of Satan learns perhaps even to laugh at the momentary conviction, and to congratulate himself upon the wisdom of his present indifference.

The Stony Ground Hearer

In the next class of hearers, the stony ground illustrates the opposition of the flesh. And for this end it is pictured, not at its worst, but at its best. This man "heareth the word, and immediately with joy receiveth it; yet has he not root in himself." Here is not the natural man's rejection of the Word, but his reception of it; though there is no more real fruit than, in the first case. The seed has rapid growth, the rocky bed forming a sort of natural hot-bed for it, so that it springs up quickly with abundant promise. But the very thing which favors this ready development forbids continuance. The seed cannot root itself in the rock, and the sun withers it up.

It is easy to see what is wanting here, and that the picture is of the stony heart of unbelief, unchanged, denying the Word admittance, where seeming most to receive it. Many such cases there are — where the gospel is apparently at once and with joy received, but where the immediate joy is just the sign of surface-work, and of unreality at bottom. With such, the plowshare of conviction has never made way for the seed to penetrate. The work is mental and emotional only, not in the conscience. There has been no repentance, — no bringing down into the dust, in the consciousness of a lost, helpless, undone condition, which nothing but the blood and grace of Christ can meet. There has been no coming out of self — self-righteousness and self-sufficiency — to Him.

Thus there is no root in the man himself, Christ is not his real and grand necessity. So "when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended." This is the religion of the flesh, of sentiment, of unreality, and this is its end. It lacks the sign and seal of a work truly divine — permanence. It "dureth for awhile." "I know that what God doeth, it shall be forever" (Ecc. 3:14).

It should admonish every workman who goes forth with the precious seed of the Word of God, that there is such a hasty springing up of the Word he carries, which (in souls unexercised before) is not to be caught at and rejoiced in, but just the contrary. An easy passage into joy and peace, without any deep conviction, — any real taking the place of a lost sinner before God. It is not that experiences are to be preached, or trusted in by souls, for peace. Christ alone is our peace, most surely. But we should nevertheless be admonished, that if Christ came "to seek and to save the lost" (and that is the gospel — "good news" — if any is) men must know that they are lost in order to receive this gospel message. This is the Scripture truth and necessity of repentance; and this is its place: "Repent ye, and receive the gospel."

The Thorny Ground Hearer

We come now to the third class of these hearers, to him "that received seed among the thorns." The Lord interprets for us what is figured here as the opposition of the world; "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the Word, and he becometh unfruitful."

It is a more solemn warning, perhaps, than either of the others. For the Word here seems to have deeper hold, and it is not the violent assault of persecution that overthrows this faith, but the quiet influence of things in one form or another about us all. No one of us but proves more or less how occupation with needful and lawful things tends to become a "care" that saps the life of all that is of God within us. Soul-care is not despised, but just crowded out. We all feel the tendency; and who does not remember cases such as this, of those in whom the seed of the Word apparently was springing up, and where, by no sudden assault or pressure of temptation, but just in the ordinary wear and tear of life, perhaps along with the unsuspected influence of prosperity so called, like seed among thorns, the promise of fruit was choked?

But in all three cases, let us carefully mark that, however fair the appearance, there was, at the best, no "fruit." It was, in all, "faith," which "having not work," was dead, being alone. It wrought nothing really for God in the souls of those that had it. It brought about no judgment of sin, no brokenness of heart, no turning to God: where these are, there is fruit and real faith, and eternal life. Such shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of His hand in whom they have believed.

The Good Ground Hearer

Of the fourth class alone is it said, "He heareth the Word and understandeth it." This is the character of him who "received seed into the good ground." And this man also "beareth fruit." The understanding of the Word is thus the great point here. And what puts us into a condition for understanding the gospel is just the understanding of ourselves. Our guilt, our impotence, our full need apprehended by the soul, opens the way to apprehend the fullness and blessedness of the gospel message. If I am a sinner, and powerless by any effort of my own to get out of this place, how sweet and simple is it that Jesus died for sinners, and that through Him God "justifieth the ungodly." If I can do nothing, how that word, "to him that worketh not, but believeth," shines out to my soul! I understand it. It suits me. It is worthy of God. There is no good ground, prepared to receive the seed of the gospel, save that which has been thus broken up by the conviction, not of sin only, but of helplessness. "When we were without strength" came the "due time" in which "Christ died for the ungodly."

The lessons of this parable are plain enough. It teaches that the kingdom is not established by power, but by the reception of the Word, which in an adverse world is not only not universal, but often unreal where nominally it exists. It shows that the kingdom is not territorial — that in its nature it is a kingdom of the truth, whose subjects are disciples, and the introduction to which is discipling, and which grows by individual accretions. So much is plain; and it is the foundation of all that follows.

7. Tares Among the Wheat.

Thus it is plain that the kingdom in its present form is not to be a universal one. From that which the prophets of the Old Testament picture, it is widely distinguished. Left to man's reception of it, and not set up by the right hand of power, it is received by some, rejected by many; and even where outwardly received, in many cases no real fruit Godward is the result. There are thus "children of the kingdom" who in the end, like those among Israel, are cast out of it; and that where there is no fault with the seed or with the sowing of it, but the fault is entirely in the nature of the soil in which the seed is sown.

But that is not the whole picture by any means. We are now to see not merely the ill success of the good seed, but the result of the introduction of seed of another character, and sown by another hand, — the positive sowing of the enemy himself, and not simply his opposition to that sown by another. "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way" (v. 24, 25). Thus, in the very midst of that which the first parable has shown us springing up — good wheat, although there may be many barren and blighted ears — the enemy sows, not wheat at all, but tares. In this case, it is not the Word of Christ that is sown, clearly, but Satan's corruption of it. The springing up of the good seed could not produce tares, nor the father of lies preach truth. Hence, the test of a man's speaking by a good or evil spirit could be, "Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in the flesh* is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist," etc. (1 John 4:2-3). The enemy of Christ ("His enemy," v. 25), even "as an angel of light," will not hold up Christ, for he knows too well what Christ is for souls. On the other hand, when Christ was preached, even of envy and strife, the apostle could rejoice for the same reason (Phil. 1). But here, not the "corn of wheat," (John 12:24) which would bring forth wheat if it sprang up at all, but "tares" are sown; and "tares" and nothing else spring up. The word "sown," in imitation yet in real opposition to the truth, produces under a Christian name and dress a host of real enemies to the truth and to Christ, "children of the wicked one" (v. 38), not mere children of nature, however fallen, but the devil's own, — begotten by his word, as God's children by His.

{*This is more literal as a translation than "that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," of the common version.}

And here, alas, we read of no hindrances, no opposition of hard-trodden ground, or underlying rock, — no catching away by the birds of the air, — no choking` by thorns. All circumstances favor this seed and its growth. It needs no nursing; will thrive amid "cares of this world," and grow up in companionship with the "deceitfulness of riches." It is at home everywhere, and the soil everywhere congenial, for its "wisdom" is not "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God:" it "descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15).

So it prospers. And even the children of God, — nay, "the servants" (v. 27), are slow to discern the true nature of what is being sown, and growing up amongst them. Sad and solemn it is to see how lightly we think of error; for it is but another way of saying how lightly we value the truth. Yet by the word of truth are we begotten, and by the truth are we sanctified (James 1:18; John 17:17). It is this by which we alone know either ourselves or God. It is of the perversion of this that the apostle said, "Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8); words that he emphatically repeats, that we may be assured that it was no hastiness of ill-tempered zeal that moved him, but the true inspiration of the Spirit of Christ.

The seed springs up, then, and there are now tares among the wheat. How soon that began in the professing church! Judaism, legalism, ceremonialism, and even the denial of the resurrection itself, the keystone of Christian doctrine, you may find again and again among the churches of the apostolic days; and in the sure Word of God what solemn warnings as to the future, — a future long since present. "Even now are there many antichrists," wrote the last of the apostles, "whereby we know it is the last time."

But for the sowing of these tares, those are responsible to whom the field has been intrusted. "While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat." There was the failure. In the case given in the first parable, they had not power to prevent the ill-success of the Word of truth in men's hearts, or the hollowness of an external profession of the truth, which yet had no proper root in the man who made it. All who "gladly received the Word upon the day of Pentecost" were baptized "the same day." There was no waiting to see if, when tribulation came, they would endure, and yet that was the real test for the stony-ground hearer. Such would "immediately with joy" receive the Word, and so baptism, and be added to the disciples. It was not failure on the part of the baptizers, if such there were, for the heart they could not read. There each man stood on his own responsibility to God.

But it was a different thing when that which was not the Word, but Satan's corruption of it, began to be sown, and that in the very midst of disciples. And, once again I say, how soon that took place! and how soon it became needful to write even to the little babes about Antichrist; and to exhort men "earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints;" and that, because of "certain men, crept in unawares, — ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3, 4). Thus were the tares already manifested. "The children of the wicked one" were there. Christ was denied in His own kingdom. The question of His actual sovereignty was raised, and He must come in sovereignty and in judgment to decide that question. The servants are not competent to decide it. "The servants said unto Him, 'Wilt thou, then, that we go and gather them up?'" these tares. "But He said, 'Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.'"

A solemn lesson, from which we may, if we will, learn much; while it does not teach what so many seem disposed to learn from it. For plainly, communion at the Lord's table is not at all the question here, and it is nothing less than willful blindness to persist in this application of it in the face of the manifold Scriptures which contradict it. What meaning could "Put out from among yourselves that wicked person," addressed to the church at Corinth, have for those who here learn from the lips of the Lord Himself, as they say, that tares and wheat are to grow up together in the church, and that it is vain and wrong to attempt any such separation? And what mean even their own feeble efforts to put out some notorious offenders, if this be so? If this be to gather up tares, why attempt it in the case of even the worst, when the principle they maintain is not to do it at all?

Gathering of Tares in Angels' Hands

On the other hand, this passage does teach us that it is one thing to know and own the evil that has come in, and quite another to have power or authority to set things right again. Men slept, and the tares were sown. No after-vigilance or earnestness could repair the mischief. The gathering up must be left for angels' hands in the day of harvest. "Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say unto the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."

Jude's remedy for the state of things is just the same. Of the ungodly men of whom he speaks as having crept in among the disciples, he says, "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, 'Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches, which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.'" Thus alone in the wheat field of Christendom is the separation of the evil from the good effected. It is quite another thing to purge ourselves, according to the apostle's word to Timothy (2 Tim. 2), from the vessels to dishonor in the house; and this we are bound to do. The purging of the house itself the Lord alone will and can do.

Meanwhile, tares and wheat do grow together. The dishonor done to Christ in Christendom no means of ours can ever efface or rectify. No, not even the most zealous preaching of the gospel, however blessed the result of that, will ever turn the tares of Unitarianism, Universalism, annihilationism, popery, and what not, into good wheat for God's granary. Nor can we escape their being numbered with us as Christians in the common profession of the day. If we meet them at the Lord's table, as if it were no matter, ,or we could not help it, we should proclaim ourselves "one bread, one body" with them (1 Cor. 10:17); for "we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." But while refusing to link ourselves with them to the dishonor of our Lord and Master, we cannot put ourselves outside the common profession of Christianity to avoid companionship with them there. Nor if we had power, have we skill to separate infallibly the Lord's people, many of them mixed up with most of the various forms of error. "The Lord knoweth them that are His" is alone our comfort. He will make no mistake. And "Behold, the Lord cometh," is the only available remedy which faith looks for, for the state of things at large.

Tares Gathered in Bundles for Burning

The separation, which men's hands are thus declared incompetent for, remains for angels' hands in the day of the harvest of Christendom. They are the reapers then. The field is to be cleared of wheat and tares alike; and at one moment it is bidden both to gather the tares in bundles to be burnt, and to gather the wheat into the barn. Thus solemnly the day of Christian profession ends.

But let us look a little more closely at the order and manner of it, which is of the greatest importance in order to understand it rightly.

"Gather together first the tares, and hind them in bundles to burn them." There is no actual burning yet, and there is no removal from the field. It is a separation of the tares in the field, so as to leave the wheat distinct and ready for the ingathering. In what manner, we must refrain from conjecturing; whether it will be gradually or suddenly effected, we do not know. The separation will be, however, made, and the true people of the Lord will stand in their own distinct company at last when that day is come. There will follow then, not the removal of the tares, but of the wheat. The tares are left in bundles on the field; the wheat are gathered into the barn.

Wheat Gathered into His Barn

We know what this is very well; and how many joyful hopes are crowded into that brief sentence. The scene is pictured for us in 1 Thess. 4. The descent of the Lord into the air; the shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; the resurrection of the dead in Christ, the myriads fallen asleep in Him through the ages of the past; the change of the living saints throughout the earth; the rise of that glorious company; the meeting and the welcome; the henceforth "ever with the Lord," — all these are the various parts and features of that which these words figure to us: "Gather the wheat into My barn." Suddenly, we know, this will be. "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," this change will be effected; every living saint will be gathered out of the length and breadth of Christendom,* and it will be left but a tare-field simply, with its tares gathered and bound in bundles, ready for the burning.

False Professor Finally Linked With the Tares

And where are the barren and blighted ears of false profession? Where is he of the stony ground? where the man in whom the good seed of the Word was choked with the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and brought no fruit to perfection? We have seen that the "tares" are not simply such, but the fruit of Satan's perversion of the Word. They are not those of whom the apostle speaks as "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof;" but rather they are those, whether teachers or taught, to whom apply the words of another apostle, concerning "false teachers, who shall privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them," and whose "pernicious ways" many shall follow, "by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2). These are the tares of the devil's sowing, and it is important to distinguish them from the mere formalist and unfruitful professor of the truth. It is on account of these, as both Peter and Jude tell us, that the swift and terrible judgment which ends the whole comes. "Enoch," the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, 'Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all.'"

{*There is a notion current among many who believe in the Lord's coming, that only those who are in a certain state of preparation among the saints then living will be caught up then, and the rest will be left on earth to be purified by the tribulation that follows. I cannot do more than allude to this just now: but it is completely contradicted in the words of the parable before us.}

And yet the formalist, the man of mere profession, will not escape. In the judgment of the dead before the great white throne they will receive according to their deeds as surely as any, but that is long after the scene before us in this parable. Here is a simple question of good wheat for the granary or of tares for the burning. Nothing else is in the field at all. There is no middle class, no unfruitful orthodox profession; all seem to have taken sides, before the solemn close of the time of harvest, either manifestly for Christ, or as manifestly against Him. Is this indeed so? and have we warrant for such an interpretation of the language of the parable?

The Apostasy of Christendom

The answer to this is a very solemn one; and we shall find it in the second epistle to the Thessalonians. In the first epistle, the apostle had spoken of "the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him." He had assured them that even the sleeping saints would be brought with Christ when He should come again (1 Thess. 4:14); and that in order to accompany Him so on His return to earth, they would be raised from the dead, and together with all the living ones of that day, be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Thus, when He "appeared" to judge the world, they would appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). He could therefore in His second epistle beseech the Thessalonian Christians, by their knowledge of this coming, and this "gathering," not to be shaken in mind, or troubled, as supposing or being persuaded that the day of the Lord had already come.* That day (as all the prophets witness) is the day of the Lord's taking the earth from under man's hand and into His own, the time in which His judgments are upon the earth, and the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. That day, he assures them, shall not come unless there come a falling away (an apostasy) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped.

{* 2 Thess. 2:2: The word rendered "is at hand" in the common version, is the one rendered "present," in opposition to "to come," in Rom. 8:38 and 1 Cor. 3:22; and so Alford renders it here. It is the only proper rendering. The generality of editors also read "the day of the Lord" instead of "the day of Christ."}

The Anti-Christ

Now, my object is not any special application or interpretation of this. So much is manifest, that this "man of sin," whoever he may be, is one who heads up an, or rather "the" apostasy of the latter days. The evil, the mystery of iniquity, was already at work even in the apostles' days (v. 7). There was, however, for the present, a restraint upon it. When that should be removed, the wicked one would be revealed, who was to be destroyed alone, mark, by the Lord's coming (v. 8).

Thus we are evidently in view of the same period as that contemplated in the parable before us, as well as of the judgment which Jude warns of. The passage in the Thessalonians exhibits, however, the "man of sin" as the distinct head and leader of the latter-day apostasy, and, moreover, declares to us how far this apostasy shall extend. The coming of the "wicked one" is declared to be with a terrible power of delusion which will carry away captive the masses of the unconverted among professing Christians until none of that middle or neutral class remain. "Whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they may believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (v. 9-12).

Thus terribly shall close the history of Christendom. The true saints once taken out of it, the door of grace will be closed forever upon those who have rejected grace. They will be given over to become, as they speedily will become, from being unbelievers of the truth, believers of a lie. The wheat being gathered out of the field, tares alone will be found in it.

The actual burning of the tares is not found in the parable itself, but in the interpretation of it which the Lord afterward gives to His disciples. "As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of this age. 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" (v. 40-43).

The Coming of the Son of Man

This is when the Lord comes as Son of Man to take that throne which He has promised to share with His people. Then, when the time of "patience" is over, and the rod of iron shall break in pieces all resistance to the King of kings. Then "judgment" — long separated from it — "shall return unto righteousness," and the earth shall be freed from the yoke of oppression and the bondage of corruption. It is the time of which the thirty-seventh Psalm speaks, when "evil doers shall be cut off: but those who wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth" (v. 9); when "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" (v. 10, 11).

Sometime before will the gathering for heaven have taken place, and the saints have met their Lord, as we have seen. Now, in this day of the judgment, which prepares the way for the blessing of the earth, they are seen in their heavenly place. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun." Blessed words! which speak of their association with their Lord in other ways than simply as sharers of His rule with the "rod of iron." For "unto you that fear My Name," says the Word by Malachi to Israel, "shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings." Who bears that name, we know; and how it speaks of earth's nighttime passed away. But "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." So, as the Sun, shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father.

With Christ, like Him, they shine; themselves subject in one sphere, if rulers in another; but subject with all the heart's deep devotion, where service is fullest liberty, serving as sons Him whom they call, at the same time, God and Father.

8. Secular Power and "the Voice of the Church."

Thus we have compassed the whole history of the kingdom of the absent One, up to its solemn close in judgment at His coming. The two parables now before us take us back from this, to look at the same scenes in other aspects.

And the two parables, however dissimilar in other respects, have this in common (wherein they differ from the former two), that they speak, not of individuals, but of the mass, as such. They give us the outward form as well as the inward spiritual reality of what Christendom as a whole becomes — of what it has become, we may very simply say, for the facts are plain enough to all, whether men question or not the application of the parables to those facts.

Parable of the Mustard Seed

"Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof'" (Matt. 13:31-32).

Of this parable the Lord gives us no direct interpretation. It is stated, however, to be another similitude of the same kingdom spoken of by the former ones. And as Scripture must ever be its own interpreter, and we are certainly intended to understand the Lord's words here, we may be confident the key to the understanding of it is not far off. Let any one read the following passage from the book of Daniel, and say if it does not furnish that key at once (the words are the words of the king of Babylon)

"Thus were the visions of mine head upon my bed: I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth. The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it" (Dan. 4:10-12).

This is interpreted of the king himself (v. 22): "It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong." The figure, therefore, — which we have elsewhere, and always with the same meaning, (as Ezek. 17:5; Ezek. 31:3-6) — is that of worldly power and greatness. But the strange thing in Matt. 13 is, that "the least of all seeds" should grow into such a tree. For the seed, here as elsewhere, is "the Word of the kingdom" (v. 19). And we have seen already how men treated that Word. The kingdom of the Crucified could have but little attraction for the children of the men who crucified Him. Human hearts are sadly too much alike for that. How could, then, a great worldly power come of the sowing of the gospel in the world?

Granted that it has become this, is this a sign for good, or the reverse? How could "My kingdom is not of this world" shape with this? And what proper mastery of this world could there be, — what overcoming of its evil with divine good, where three parts of the professed disciples were, according to the first parable, unfruitful hearers merely, and (according to the second,) Satan's tares had been sown broadcast among the wheat?

But if we want plain words as to all this, we may find them in abundance; and if, on the one hand, we know by what is round us that professing Christianity has become a power in the world, we may know on the other, both by practical experience and the sure Word of God, that it has become such by making its terms of accommodation with the world. It has bought off the old, inherent enmity of the world at the cost of its Lord's dishonor, by the sacrifice of its own divine, unworldly principles. He who runs may read the "perilous times" of the latter days written upon the forefront of the present days (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

Yes, the little seed has become indeed a tree, but the "birds of the air" are in its branches. Satan himself (cp. verses 4, 9.) has got lodgment and shelter in the very midst of the "tree" of Christendom. The "Christian world" is the "world" still; and the "whole world lieth in the wicked one"* (1 John 5:19). The opposition to Christ and His truth is from within now, instead of from without; none the less on that account, but all the more deadly.

{*Not "in wickedness." Comp. ver. 18; it is the same word.}

Rome is the loudest assertor of this claim of power in the world, and what has Rome not done to maintain her claim? Her photograph is in Rev. 17, 18. Successor to the "tree"-like power of old Babel, she is called "Babylon the Great." And she is judged as having, while professing to be the spouse of Christ, made guilty alliance with the nations of the world; "for all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies" (Rev. 18:2). And alas! with the power of Israel's enemy, she has inherited also the old antipathy to the people of God: "I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration (Rev. 17:6).

This is the full ripe result. The beginning of it is already seen at Corinth even in the apostle's day: "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. …We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised" (1 Cor. 4:8, 10).

Thus early was the little seed developing; thus quickly did the Christianity of even apostolic days diverge from that of the apostles. Paul lived to say of the scene of his earliest and most successful labors, "All that are in Asia have departed from me." Thus widespread was the divergence. Men that quote to us the Christianity of a hundred or two hundred years from that had need to pause and ask themselves what type of it they are following, — whether that of degenerate Asia, or "honorable," worldly Corinth, or what else.

That is the external view, then, which this parable presents, of the state of the kingdom during the King's absence. It had struck its roots down deep into the earth and flourished. Such a power in the world is Christendom this day. Beneath its ample cloak of respectable profession it has gathered in the hypocrite, the formalist, the unfruitful, — in short, the world; and the deadliest foes of Christ and of His cross are those nurtured in its own bosom.

Parable of the Three Measures of Meal and Leaven

But we go on to the other parable for a deeper and more internal view: —

"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).

Leaven. Always Symbolical of Evil

Now what is "leaven"? It is a figure not unfrequently used in Scripture, and it will not be hard to gather up the instances to which it is applied and explained in the New Testament. We surely cannot go wrong in allowing it thus to interpret itself to us, instead of following our own conjectures.

The following, then, are all the New Testament passages: —

 Matt.16:6: "Then Jesus said unto them, 'Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.'" In the twelfth verse this is explained: "Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."

The passages in Mark and Luke are similar (Mark 8:15 and Luke 12:1).

In 1 Cor. 5 the apostle is reproving them for their toleration of the "wicked person" there. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh 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."

There the "leaven" is moral evil, as in the Gospels it was doctrinal evil. In Gal. 5:9 (the only remaining passage), it is again doctrinal. "Christ is become of no effect unto you whosoever of you are justified by the law … Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not from Him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump."

If we take Scripture, then, as its own interpreter, it must be admitted that "leaven" is always a figure of evil, moral or doctrinal, never of good. But it is possible to define its meaning and that of the parable still more clearly.

It is Lev. 2 that furnishes us in this case with the key. Among the offerings which this book opens with (all of which, I need scarce say, speak of Christ), the meat (or "food") offering is the only one in which no life is taken, no blood shed. It is an offering of "fine flour," — Christ, not in the grace, therefore, of His atoning death, but in His personal perfectness and preciousness as the bread of life, offered to God, no doubt, and first of all satisfying Him, but as that, man's food also, as He declares, "He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me" (John 6:57).

Now it is with this meat-offering that leaven is positively forbidden to be mixed (v. 11): "No meat offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven." True to its constant use in Scripture, as a figure of evil, that which was a type of the Lord Himself was jealously guarded from all mixture with it. Now in the parable, the "three measures of meal" are just this "fine flour" of the offering. The words are identical in meaning. The flour is man's food, plainly, as the offering is, and thus interpreted spiritually can alone apply to Christ. But here, the woman is doing precisely the thing forbidden in the law of the offering, — she is mixing the leaven with the fine flour. She is corrupting the pure "bread of life" with evil and with error.

Babylon the Great — "The Woman"

And who is this "woman" herself? There is meaning, surely, in the figure. And he who only remembers Eph. 5 will want no proof that that figure is often that of the Church, the spouse of Christ, and subject to Himself. It may be also, as we have already seen, the figure of the professing body, as the "woman," Babylon the Great, is. In this sense, the whole parable itself is simple. It is the too fitting climax of what has preceded it: it is she who has drugged the cup in Rev. 17, for the deception of the nations, adulterating here the bread also. The "leaven of the Pharisees" (legality and superstition), the "leaven of the Sadducees" (infidelity and rationalism), the "leaven of Herod" (courtierlike pandering to the world), things not of past merely, but of current history, have been mixed with and corrupted the truth of God. All must own this, whatever his own point of view. The Romanists will say Protestants have done so; the Protestants will in turn accuse Rome; the myriads of jarring sects will tax each other; the heathen will say to one and all, "We know not which of you to believe; each contradicts and disagrees with the other. Go and settle your own differences first, and then come, if you will, to us."

The leaven is leavening the whole lump. The evil is nowise diminishing, but growing worse. No doubt God is working. And no doubt, as long as the Lord has a people in the midst of Christendom, things will not be permitted to reach the extreme point. But the tendency is downward; and once let that restraint be removed, the apostasy (which we have seen Scripture predicts) will then have come.

But men do not like to think of this. And I am prepared for the question (one which people have often put, where these things have been so stated) how can the kingdom of heaven be like "leaven" if leaven be always evil. Must not the figure here have a different meaning from that which you have given it? Must it not be a figure rather of the secret yet powerful influence of the gospel, permeating and transforming the world?

To which I answer:

1. This is contrary to the tenor of Scripture, which assures us that, instead of Christianity working real spiritual transformation of the world at large, the "mystery of iniquity" was already "working" in the apostle's days in it, and that it would work on (though for a certain season under restraint) until the general apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin (2 Thess. 2).

  1. 2. It is contrary to the tenor of these parables themselves, which have already shown us (in the very first of them) how little universal would be the reception of the truth: three out of four casts of seed failing to bring forth fruit.

  2. 3. The language from which this is argued — "the kingdom of heaven is like unto it" — does not simply mean that it is itself like "leaven," as they put it, but like "leaven leavening three measures of meal." The whole parable is the likeness of the kingdom in a certain state, not the "leaven" merely is its likeness.

Let any one compare the language of the second parable with this, and he cannot fail to see the truth of this.

Verse 24 "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man, which sowed good seed," etc.

Verse 33 "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took," etc.

Is it not plain that the kingdom is no more simply compared to the "leaven" in verse 33 than to the "man" in verse 24? In each case the whole parable is the likeness. The kingdom, therefore, need not be bad because the leaven is, nor the leaven good because the kingdom is. And into a picture of the kingdom in its present form evil may — and, alas! must — enter, or why judgment to set it right?

There is indeed but too plain consistency in the view of the kingdom which these parables present; and a uniform progression of evil and not of good. First, the ill success of the good seed in the first parable; then, the introduction and growth of bad seed in the second. Then the whole form and fashion of the kingdom changes into the form and fashion of one of the kingdoms of the world. This is the Babylonish captivity of the Church. And lastly, the very food of the children of God is tampered with, and corrupted, until complete apostasy from the faith ensues. Christ is wholly lost, and Antichrist is come.

Here, thank God, the darkness has its bound; and in the last three parables of the chapter, we are to see another side of things, and trace that work of God which never ceases amid all the darkness; His — Whose "every act pure blessing is; His path, unsullied light."

9. The Divine Counsel and Purpose.

The three parables which remain to be considered have found interpretations more various and conflicting than the preceding ones, and require, therefore, an examination proportionately the more careful. The former were all spoken (with the exception of the interpretation of the second one,) in the presence of the whole multitude, and they refer to a condition of things to which the world at large is this day witness. But "Then," we read, these four parables having been delivered, "Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house, and His disciples came unto Him" (v. 36). To these alone He speaks the parables which follow, for they contain, not external history merely, but the divine mind surely fulfilling amid all this outward confusion and ruin, which the former parables have shown Him not ignorant of who foretold it from the beginning.*

{*The very number of the parables tells of this. For as there are seven in all, the number from creation onward the type and symbol of completeness, — so this number seven is divided further into four and three. "Four" is the number of universality, of the world at large, from the four points of the compass, (as I take it) — east, west, north and south. "Three" is the divine number — that of the Persons in the Godhead. Here, then, the first four parables give us the world-aspect of the kingdom of heaven; the last three, the divine mind accomplishing with regard to it.}

It will not be necessary to advert to different views prevailing as to the meaning of the parables before us, but only to seek to show from Scripture itself, as fully as possible, the grounds for that which will here be considered as the true.

Parable of the Treasure in the Field

The first two parables we shall put together, as they invite comparison by their evident resemblance to one another: —

 "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.

Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (v. 44-46).

The parables are alike in this, that they both present to us the action of a man who purchases what has value in his eyes at the cost of all he has. The question is, who is presented here? The common voice replies that it is man as the seeker of salvation or of Christ, — that we have here the story of individual effort after the "one thing needful," flinging aside all other things in order to obtain it. But is this consistent with the constant representations of Scripture, or with the facts themselves? Do we thus buy Christ at the cost of all we have? It is true we have in the prophet the exhortation to "buy" (Isa. 55:1), where the "wine and milk" are no doubt the figure of spiritual sustenance. But there (that there may be no mistake in such a matter), the "buying" is distinctly said to be "without money and without price." Man is never represented as seeking salvation with wealth in his hand to purchase it. The prodigal seeks, but not until perishing with hunger. He comes back beggared, driven by necessity, and only so. And all who have ever come back really to the Father know this to be the truthful representation of the matter.

On the other hand, the real Seeker, Finder, Buyer, everywhere in Scripture, is the Lord Jesus Christ. The figure in both parables is most evidently His. The same Person is represented in each, and the same work too, though under different aspects.

In the first parable, it is treasure hid in a field that is the object of the Buyer. "The field," we are told in the interpretation of the parable of the tares, "is the world." It is an object in the world, then, — an earthly object, — that is sought for and obtained. So in this parable He is represented as buying "that field" — buying the world. He buys the field to get the treasure in it. Most certainly no man ever bought the world to get Christ, so that the believer is not the "man" represented in the parable.

Did Christ, then, buy the world by His sufferings? Turn to the last chapter of this gospel, and hear Him say, as risen from the dead, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth." Strictly, it is "authority," not "power." He has title over all, and that as the risen One. "Ask of Me," is the language of Jehovah to the Son begotten upon earth, "and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Ps. 2). Thus He takes the throne in the day of His appearing and His kingdom. It is because of that wondrous descent of One "in the form of God" down to the fathomless depths of "the death of the cross," that "therefore hath God highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name above every name; that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2). It is that explains, what perplexes some, that Peter can speak of those who, "denying the Lord that bought them, bring upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1). These are not at all redeemed ones, but they are "bought," for all men and all the world belong to Him as the fruit of His sufferings, — of that cross, where He, for the sake of that which had beauty in His eyes, sold all that He had.

Thus I conceive it unquestionable, that it is Christ Himself who is the central figure in these two parables. We may now compare the two sides of His work presented in them. In that of the treasure, we have seen it is the field of the "world" that is bought for the sake of the treasure in it; while in that of the pearl, no field is bought at all, but simply the pearl itself. Are these two figures, then, the treasure and the pearl, different aspects of the same thing, or different things? — the same object from different points of view, or different objects?

If we look for a moment at what has been already pointed out as to "the kingdom of heaven" of which these parables are both similitudes, we shall see that there are two spheres which it embraces, answering to those words of the Lord we have just quoted, "All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." Christ is now, as a matter of fact, gathering out from the earth those who are to "sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" — not in earthly, but in heavenly blessing. But before "the appearing and kingdom," this purpose having been accomplished, and the heavenly saints caught up to meet the Lord, — He will gather to Himself, for blessing upon the earth, a remnant of Israel and an election of the Gentiles. Take the two purposes of Christ's death as expressed in John 11:51-52, you have it as the inspired comment upon Caiaphas' advice to the Jewish council, — "And this spake he, not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only," adds the inspired writer, "but that also He should gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad." Now I ask, is it not significant that we find in the second of these parables the very type of unity, — the one pearl, — as that which the merchant man bought? Is it not, then, permissible and natural to turn to the other with the anticipation of finding in it "that nation" of Israel, for which also Jesus died, under the figure of the "treasure hid in the field"?

Thus would Israel on the one hand and the Church upon the other be the representatives of earthly and of heavenly blessing: the Gentile nations coming in to share with Israel the one as the departed saints of the past dispensations come in to share with the Church the other. The reason why these two alone should be spoken of, and not along with the Church the saints of former times, or along with Israel the Gentiles of the future, will, I think, be plain to those who consider the Scripture mode of putting these same things. Thus to Israel belong the "promises," as Rom. 9:4 declares. The Gentiles no more come into view there than they do in the parable of the treasure here. Yet many a Scripture promises the blessing of the Gentiles on a future day. But they come in under the skirts of the now despised Jew (Zech. 8:23). Then again, as to the Church, it is the only company of people gathered openly and avowedly for heavenly blessing. And moreover, it is the company that is being gathered now, and began to be with the sowing of the gospel-seed in the first parable of those before us.

The Treasure in the Field is Israel

Let us look now somewhat closer into the details of the parable of the treasure hid in a field.

Of old it had been said, "The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure" (Ps. 135:4). But at the time when He who had so chosen them came unto His own, there was but little appearance in the condition of the people of the place they had thus in Jehovah's heart. "Lo-Ammi," — "not My people," had long been said of them. They were even then scattered among the Gentiles. The figure of the treasure hid in the field was the true similitude of their condition, watched over as "beloved for the father's sake," and yet trodden down by the foot of the oppressor, to none but Him who yet longed over them known as having preciousness for God.

But there was One who recognized the value of this treasure. One who had in His birth fulfilled to Israel Isaiah's prophecy of Emmanuel, — "God with us." One to whom, so born, Gentiles had brought their homage as "King of the Jews." He found this treasure, presenting Himself among them as One having divine power to meet their condition, and bring them forth out of their hiding-place, and make manifest the object of divine favor and delight. And those who knew best His thoughts were ever expecting the time when He would bring forth this treasure and display it openly. That question which they had proposed to Him after His resurrection shows what had long been in their hearts, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

And they understood not when they saw the gleam of brightness which had shone out for them when He rode in the meekest of triumphs, amidst the acclamations of the multitude, into Jerusalem, fade and die out in the midday darkness which so shortly after fell on Calvary. They understood not yet how He was in all this but the "man" in His own parable, who, finding treasure in the field, hideth it, and for joy thereof goeth forth and selleth all that He hath, and buyeth that field.

And the treasure is hidden still. Calvary is come and gone, — Joseph's new tomb is emptied of its Guest, — they have stood upon the mount called Olivet, and seen Him whom they have owned King of the Jews go up to take another throne than that of David. Then they are found charging the people with their denial of the Holy One and the Just, bidding them still repent and be converted, and even now, He who had left them would be sent back to them, and the times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord. Scenes before the council follow; one at last in which a man, whose face shines with the glory of heaven, stands and charges the leaders of the nation with the accumulated guilt of ages, — "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do alway resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye." And they cast him out of the city and stone him. Those that were bidden have been called to the marriage, and they will not come.

The city is destroyed, and the people scattered. Israel are still a treasure hid. The parable gives no bringing forth. Simply the field is bought. It is now but "Ask, and I will give Thee." All waits upon the will of Him to whom now everything belongs.

But He waits, and has waited for nearly twenty centuries, as if the treasure were nothing to Him now and He had forgotten His purpose.

The Pearl of Great Price is the Church

Then the second parable comes in as what is needed by way of explanation of the long delay. The "one pearl of great price" speaks of the preciousness to Him of another object upon which He has set His heart. "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it" — "went went and sold all that He had and bought it." Not now the field of the world, for the Church is heavenly. Israel has still the earthly "promises." We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

This Church is one — one pearl. Brought up out of the depth of the sea, and taken out of the rough shell in which it is first incased — taken out at the cost of the life of that to which it owes its being, the pearl is a fitting type of that which has been drawn out of the sea of Gentile waters, and out of the roughness of its natural condition, at the cost of the life of Him in whom it was seen and chosen before the foundation of the world. Of how "great price" to Him, that death of His may witness. The title which the Christian heart so commonly and naturally takes to be His alone, it is sweet to see that His heart can give His people. We, dear fellow believers, are His precious pearl. Nor is there any "hiding again" here, or suspension of this purpose. This is the second meaning of the cross, "who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

10. The "Everlasting Gospel"

Parable of the Net Cast into the Sea

In the last chapter of this final three, we find, as I believe, not another aspect of the divine dealings with the mingled crop in the field of Christendom, but a new acting, whether in grace or judgment, after the merchant man has possessed himself of his pearl, or in other words, after the saints of the past and present time are caught up to Christ. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, and cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world (or age): the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just; and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (v. 47-51).

The parable closes thus (in so far, just as the parable of the tares of the field,) with the judgment executed at the appearing of the Lord. The common application of it is to the going forth of the gospel during the present time, and the final separation of bad and good when the Lord comes. That is, the meaning is considered to be almost identical with the tare-parable. I believe there are some plain reasons against such an interpretation.

For, in the first place, the parallelism of the two parables in that case is certainly against it. There would be little in the picture of the net cast into the sea that was not simply repetition of what had already been given. And this, at first sight, would not seem natural Or likely.

But beside this, it is to be considered that Scripture plainly gives us another going forth of the gospel of the kingdom, and as the result of it a discriminative judgment when the Son of Man comes, apart altogether from the present going forth of the gospel, and the judgment of the tares of Christendom. The company of sheep and goats in Matt. 25 is an instance of this. For there will be no such separation as is there depicted between these sheep and goats, of the true and false among Christian professors, "when the Son of Man shall" have "come in His glory." The true among Christian professors, on the contrary, will come with Him to judgment on that day, as we have seen both Col. 3:4 and Jude bear witness. The judgment of Christendom will not then be discriminative at all: the wheat having been already removed from the field, tares alone will remain in it. Thus in Matt. 25, neither tares nor wheat can be at all in question.

But after the saints of the present time have been caught up to the Lord, and Christendom has become a tare-field simply, a new work of the Lord will begin in Israel and among the surrounding nations, to gather out a people for earthly blessing. It is when God's judgments are upon the earth the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. And this will be a time of "great tribulation," such as for Israel Matt. 24 depicts. Antichrist is there, and the "abomination of desolation" stands in the holy place; yet amid all the evil and sorrow of the time, the "everlasting gospel" goes forth (Rev. 14:6-7) with its call, so opposite to the proclamation of this day of grace now being made. "Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come."

Plainly, one could not say that yet. We say it is "the accepted time, the day of salvation," not of judgment. Only after the present day is closed could the everlasting gospel be preached after that fashion, — the old "gospel of the kingdom" indeed, but with the new addition to it of the hour of God's judgment being come.

It is this proclamation of the everlasting gospel that is the key to that company of sheep and goats standing before the throne of the Son of Man when He is come.

Everlasting Gospel Going out to the Gentiles

Now, if we look a little closely, it is just such a state of things as that amid which the everlasting gospel goes forth, that this parable brings before us. A "net cast into the sea" is the picture of the gospel going forth in the midst of unquiet and commotion, the lawless will of man at work every where, the wicked "like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt" (Isa. 57:20).

Moreover, if we turn to the very earliest of Scripture types — to Genesis 1 — we shall find confirmation of this view, which is exceedingly striking. In those creative days we find, day by day, the successive steps by which God brought out of ruin the beauty of a scene where at length He could rest, because all was "very good." There need be little wonder to find this but the picture and type of how He, step by step, after the misery and ruin of Adam's fall, is proceeding toward the final production of a scene in which once again, and never more to be disturbed, because of its goodness He can rest. These days in their respective meaning it is not the place here to point out. The third day, however, speaks of the separation of Israel from among the Gentiles. The waters of the salt and barren sea are the representative of man left to the lusts and passions of his own heart (according to the figure in Isaiah just referred to), or in other words, the Gentiles.* Israel is the "earth," taken up and cultivated of God, to get, if it might be, fruit. The third day speaks of this separation of Israel from the Gentiles, as the first parable of the three we are now looking at speaks of her as God's earthly treasure.

{*Compare also Rev. 17:15.}

This is a scene all on earth. The next creative day gives us however, the furnishing of the heavens, as we have already seen the second parable of the "pearl" does. And if the sun be a type of Christ (as it surely is), that which brings in and rules the day, — the moon is no less a type of the Church, the reflection, however feeble and unstable, of Christ to the world in the night of His absence. The present time, then, is here figured, — the time of the revelation, in testimony, both of Christ and of the Church.

And now, if we pass on to the sixth day, we have as plainly in figure the kingdom of Christ come. The rule of the man and woman over the earth, — not rule over the clay or night, not the light of testimony, but rule over the earth itself, — is a picture of what we call millennial blessing.

Finally, in this series comes the Sabbath, God's own rest: He sanctifies the whole day, and blesses it; no other day succeeds.

Now between the fourth and the sixth days, the Church and the millennial dispensations, what intervenes? A period, short indeed in duration, but important enough to occupy thirteen out of the twenty-two chapters of the book of Revelation: the very time to which, as I believe, the parable of the net refers. And then, what is its type, if the fifth day represents it? Once again, the "sea," but the waters now supernaturally productive, teeming with life through the fiat of the Almighty. And so it will be in the day of Rev. 7 as the hundred and forty-four thousand of the tribes of Israel, and the in numerable multitude of Gentiles who have come out of "the great tribulation," bear abundant witness. These are the gathering out of the people for earthly blessing, as the fruit of the everlasting gospel.

These passages, then, mutually confirm each other as applying to a time characterized by Gentile lawlessness, Israel fully partaking of this character, and not yet owned of God, though He be working in her midst. Into this "sea" the net is cast, and, gathering of every kind, when it is full, is drawn to shore.

It is not till after this that the sorting begins: "which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, and cast the bad away." This shows us that the sorting cannot apply to any thing which goes on during the time of the preaching of the gospel at all events, for the net is no longer in the waters when it takes place. And it is thus the same thing evidently as that which the interpretation speaks of: "So shall it be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from the just." This is the clearance of the earth for millennial blessing. When the saints are removed, at the coming of the Lord for His own which 1 Thess. 4 sets before us, the wicked will not be severed from the just, but the just from the wicked. The righteous will be taken, and the wicked left. Here it is the reverse of this — the wicked taken and the righteous left. Thus, with the divine accuracy of the inspired Word, which invites scrutiny and rewards attention to its minutest details, it is said in the judgment of the tare-field of Christendom, "They shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity," but not, "they shall sever the wicked from among the just," for the just have been before removed. Here, on the contrary, the righteous are those not taken away to inherit heavenly blessing, but left behind to inherit earthly.*

{*Parallel passages will be found in Matt. 24:37-42 and Luke 17:24, 37. In the Old Testament, the Psalms especially are full of this severing of the wicked from among the just: e.g. Ps. 1:4-5; Ps. 37:9-11. See also Malachi 4:1-3.}

With this glance at things which belong to that short but most momentous season — the season of the earth's travail before her final great deliverance, the sevenfold sketch of the kingdom of the absent King necessarily ends. The blessing of earth, as of Israel, necessitates His presence, and with that the close of the "kingdom and patience," the beginning of that "kingdom and glory" which will never end. Well will it be for us if we keep in mind the sure connection between the "patience" and the "glory."