God's Move and the Devil's Countermove

"I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35).

A Tare-sown wheat field, a tree of monstrous growth and a bowl of leavened meal! What connection could there be between such diverse things as these? It would seem, until we possess the key, none at all, and that the Speaker was talking without point or purpose. But our Lord, who gave to us these similitudes of the kingdom of heaven, has also given us the key to them, and having got this, we realize how perfect, how divine was His pre-vision, for no figures could have been chosen that could have more accurately described the progress of the profession of His Name on earth. The key is the Lord's interpretation of the wheat and the tares. Having got this, the mustard tree and the leavened meal need no explanation, they are self-evident, at least to those whose eyes are opened and to whom understanding hearts have been given.

In declaring the parable of the wheat and the tares the Lord left nothing to the imagination of His disciples, or ours; every detail of it is explained.
The sower is the Son of man.
The field is the world.
The good seed are the children of the kingdom.
The tares are the children of the devil.
The enemy is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age.
The reapers are the angels.
The tares are to be gathered into bundles to be burned.
The righteous shall shine forth as the Sun in the kingdom of their Father.

The sowing of the seed was God's great move to secure a harvest for Himself from this world. The seed by which these children of the kingdom, which are the harvest, were produced, and are still being produced, was His own word — the revelation of what He is. This revelation could be made by His beloved Son alone, for "no man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him," and when this declaration was completed it could be summed up in three words — "GOD IS LOVE." The children of the kingdom are born by the word of God, and just as it lives and abides for ever, so have they eternal life.

But who can tell what it cost the only-begotten Son to sow the seed? He had to become the Son of man to do it, and while universal glories gather round that great title, and He is worthy of every one of them, the first mention of it in the New Testament opens up the hardships that were His. It says, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has not where to lay His head." As to the actual sowing of the seed and what it meant to Him we read in an Old Testament Scripture — "He that goes forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing His sheaves with Him." In His mission, which He only could accomplish, He encountered the contradiction of sinners against Himself and the powers of darkness, and "the days of His flesh" were characterized by "prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears." If a tongue were given to the Mount of Olives, what a story it could tell of those nights of prayer and tears that it witnessed, while guilty Jerusalem slept all heedless of the fact that God in infinite compassion and ready to forgive all its transgressions was moving in the midst of it!

The Son of man was the Man of Sorrows, and that not in His life only. His life was the road that led to His cross, for to this end was He born. THE SON OF MAN MUST BE LIFTED UP, even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and "God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It was thus that the seed was sown, and thus was God fully declared. This was the price that was paid in order that God might have a harvest for His heavenly garner from this world, and that in the meanwhile the kingdom of heaven might be established on earth.

The devil is the enemy, and the sowing of the tares was his countermove. He had been unable to prevent the establishment of the kingdom of heaven in the world of which he was the prince, but he set about at once with consummate subtlety to oppose and spoil it. He opposed it by imitating it. He had tried this plan before in his conflict with God, when, in the court of Pharaoh, Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses by imitating his miracles, with the result that the hearts of Pharaoh and his Egyptians were hardened against the Lord. He showed his hand in this way first in the kingdom of heaven when he filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Ghost by pretending a self-sacrificing devotion to which the love of Christ had constrained others. I do not say that this man and his wife were actually children of the devil, but in their conduct we see the way in which the devil proposed to neutralize God's work. At that time the servants of the Lord were wide awake, and they were able to meet the enemy's craft by the power of God, and he had to wait until "men slept" to carry out his design.

The tares amongst the wheat have completely changed the original and true character of the kingdom of heaven. Its beginning was as a grain of mustard seed, "indeed is the least of all seeds." In its beginning it bore the character of its Founder, who "made Himself of no reputation," and who came not to be ministered to but to minister, and who taught His disciples that the least among them, and the one who could become the servant of all, was the greatest. The apostles understood the teaching of their Lord and obeyed it; and in consequence they were "made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things." The mind that was in Christ Jesus was in them, and while they were despised of men and persecuted, God blessed their doctrine and manner of life greatly, but not to the wise and mighty and noble, for not many such were called, but to the foolish things of the world and the weak things and the base things and the things which are despised and the things that are not (1 Cor. 1:26-29). Such were the children of the kingdom, and such was the beginning of it. But the children of the devil sown amongst these, surreptitiously at first, could not bear this character, it was contrary to their very nature, for they are like the one whose children they are, and his great sin was pride, and his determination to be greater than God had made him was the cause of his fall. How could the children of the devil be content to be nothing? Can the Ethiopian change his skin? Not having become the children of the kingdom of heaven by new birth, but having crept into it by some other way, they could not do other than vaunt themselves and "reign as kings," when and wherever it was possible. So the mustard seed grew, not into a lowly plant — for these children of the enemy, having the spirit of the world, knew that such a growth could only be despised by the world; it could have neither form nor beauty in its eyes — but it grew into a great tree, in the branches of which the fowls of the air lodged. It evolved into a tree of monstrous growth, and here we do see evolution, a thing growing into something altogether different from its origin, a thing contrary to nature.

The figure of a great tree is used in Scripture for men or nations in their greatness and political influence. It is used in this way in Daniel 5 to show the power to which Nebuchadnezzar had attained, and in Ezekiel 31 it is used to describe the Egyptian and Assyrian powers in their pride and political greatness. It is this figure that the Lord takes up to show whereunto the kingdom of heaven would grow in the world after the introduction of the tares amongst the wheat. How divinely accurate was His forecast! At Rome the Pope wears the triple crown, and claims sovereign authority over kings and princes throughout Christendom, and at one time actually exercised that authority, and will do so again; and the aim of the great Protestant bodies is to influence the world's politics, and to make a great show in the world, and every principle upon which they have acted to bring the kingdom of heaven into this place of prominence in the world is a negation of the principles of truth laid down by the Lord. The tares have carried the day, and have found in the kingdom of heaven a sphere in which they can vaunt themselves, and in which their pride and ambition can have full scope. It is the devil's work. Nothing could have enraged him more than the lowly, dependent, obedient, self-sacrificing life of Jesus here, and nothing can have surprised him more than when that same life was reproduced in His disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit; it was the effect of this in the world that he endeavoured to neutralize by the introduction of the tares, and he has succeeded in his endeavour so far as the kingdom of heaven in its present form is concerned.

The birds of the air lodge in the branches of the tree, and what these are we learn from verse 19 of our chapter, for they cannot be other than those that catch away the good seed from the hearts of those who hear the word: they are Satan and his evil spirits. It is said of Babylon the great, which is another aspect of the kingdom of heaven having come to the consummation of its corruption: it "is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Rev. 18:2). And this brings us to the last of the three similitudes, the leavened meal.

God's order is, first the doctrine and then the manner of life, and the manner of life is formed and fashioned by the doctrine. The secret of godliness is the truth as to God manifested in flesh (1 Tim. 3:15-16). But this has all been reversed in the corrupted kingdom of heaven. In it the doctrine must be made to suit the ambitions and pride and conduct of those who have assumed power in it. This surely is what is meant in 2 Timothy 4:3 — "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables." This is the present state of things in the kingdom of heaven, but in order to make this possible there had to be a gradual corruption of the sound doctrine, and this is the meaning of the leaven which the women took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. A woman taking a lead in religion and presuming to teach is contrary to the revealed mind of God, and we read in the Lord's appeal to the church at Thyatira — "I have against thee that thou sufferest that woman, Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Rev. 2:20). There is no doubt that Thyatira deals with the phase of the profession of Christ's Name on earth that has specially developed in popery, and it is true that it has been the greatest corrupter of the kingdom of heaven that has ever been in its history.

The leaven is unsound doctrine; never in Scripture is it used to symbolize what is good, and the Scripture would lead us to think of it in connection with the fowls of the air that lodge in the branches of the mustard tree, for we read in 1 Timothy 4, "Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy," and this not in heathendom, they have nothing else there, but in the kingdom of heaven, and in the very house of God.

We realize how completely the devil has lulled even true servants of Christ to sleep (Matt. 13:25) as to his work and designs, when we see that for centuries the popular interpretation of the parable of the leaven was that it represented the gospel, which should be preached in the world until at last it would be converted and made ready to welcome the Lord when He came in His kingdom. There is not a line of Scripture to support such a delusion. The three parables stand together and teach us the beginning and the progress of evil in the kingdom of heaven.

Is God, then, to be defeated? Surely not. The day is coming when He will act with discrimination and judgment. "The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. THEN SHALL THE RIGHTEOUS SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN IN THE KINGDOM OF THEIR FATHER. Who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Meanwhile we specially commend the second Epistle of Paul to Timothy, and the Epistle of Jude, to the prayerful study of those who desire to be faithful to the Lord. In them they will find the condition of things that these parables bring to our notice described in detail, and the path of the faithful in the midst of it.