AW Pink (1886-1952): The Prophetic Parables (p1)

The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13 (p1)

with The Prophetic Scope of Matthew 24 (P4)

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13


There is little room for wonder, though there is much for humiliation, at the widespread ignorance and error that now obtains among the people of God on many of the leading subjects of Prophecy. For almost fourteen centuries, as “Church-history” clearly shows, prophecy was neglected. Those known as the “Church fathers,” with only one or two exceptions, like Origen, devoted their time to wrangling over doctrines and the ordinances; while prophecy was ignored. In view of 2Pe 1:19—”We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place”—and the general neglect of prophecy for fourteen hundred years, those centuries have very aptly been termed “The Dark Ages”—dark because the light from the lamp of prophecy did not illumine them.

Nor was it much better when the Reformers came on the scene. God forbid that we should utter one word of criticism against those honored men of God, but their hands were more than full in preaching the Gospel to a people who were utterly ignorant of it, in translating the Scriptures into their own mother-tongues, and in expounding the great fundamentals of the Christian faith. So busily occupied were they in those good works, they had little or no time to give to the real study of prophecy itself. As a matter of fact, practically all that the Reformers saw in the prophetical portions of Scripture was the foretold judgment of God upon the Satanic system of the Papacy, out of which they had been mercifully delivered.

Those who have any knowledge at all of human nature can readily understand how it would be with men who had been cradled in Romanism and who later had, by the grace of God, been enabled to see its blasphemous errors. When they came to the prophecies of Scripture, their thinking was colored by Romanism, and consequently when they met with an object which was the predicted subject of God’s judgment, they viewed it through colored glasses. “Babylon’’ was the Papacy; the “Man of Sin” was the Pope; the “Beast” was Rome, and so on. The sad thing is that most of those who have followed the Reformers, instead of studying the prophecies of God’s Word for themselves, have done little more than echo what the Reformers before them said. In consequence, little or no advance has been made, and God’s people at large today have very little more light upon prophecy than had their forefathers of three hundred years ago.

There is, therefore, pressing need for all Christians to give at least part of the time they spend in reading the Scriptures to studying its predictions. We purpose giving a series of studies on the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, which, in the writer’s judgment, is, from the standpoint of prophecy, the most important chapter of all the New Testament. There is much in God’s prophetic program which must necessarily remain dark until the parables of this chapter are thoroughly mastered. At present they are much misunderstood and misinterpreted.

It will be found that in Mat 13:10-11 the Lord Jesus has designated these seven parables “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” This expression “the kingdom of heaven” comprehends in a brief form the contents of the whole chapter. This will be seen by a reference to verses 24, 31, 33, etc., where it will be found that each of the last six parables begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” What is meant by this expression? There is perhaps no term in Scripture used so extensively, but which is so little understood. Though it is found in Matthew’s Gospel only, yet it occurs there no less than thirty-two times. Thus our interpretation of this expression affects a great deal of Scripture, and a correct definition of it supplies the first key to the understanding of Matthew 13; for it should be obvious to all that none can begin to understand its seven parables until they have obtained a right definition of that term.

There is the utmost confusion today and a fearful amount of misunderstanding concerning the scriptural purport of this expression, “the kingdom of heaven.” There are some who think that it refers to Heaven itself. There are others who understand it refers to that Church of which Christ is the Head. But there is one scripture in the New Testament which conclusively refutes both of these definitions. In Mat 16:19 we find the Savior saying to Peter, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Most assuredly Christ did not give to Peter the keys of the Church; still less did He give to him the keys of Heaven itself. Then of what did He give Peter the keys? What does the reader understand by “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”? Could you give a simple and satisfactory explanation of this verse to a Romanist who came to you desiring help upon it? We have raised this point in order to show what a need there is for a careful inquiry and a close study of what this particular expression does not connote and what it does signify.

It is because the great majority of Christians, including most of their leaders and teachers, have no right understanding of this term—”the kingdom of heaven”—that they encounter so much in Matthew’s Gospel which is perplexing and puzzling to them. Let us refer to one other passage where this expression occurs so as to make more manifest the prevailing ignorance. In the opening verse of Matthew 22 we read, “And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son,” etc. Now go down to verse 11 (Mat 22:11): “and when the king came in to see the guests he saw there (at the banquet itself) a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he said unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king, Bind him hand and foot,” etc. How many of our readers are really satisfied with the explanations which they have heard or read of this passage? Our only object in calling attention to it now is to point out that it is one of the parables relating to “the kingdom of heaven,” and to show that until we obtain a correct definition of this expression there is not a little in Scripture which we shall never begin to understand.

Before we are ready to take up in detail the subject of “the kingdom of heaven” we need first to weigh the wider expression of “the kingdom of God,” and in considering this we must begin where Scripture begins, and that is in the Old Testament. In the remainder of this article we shall attempt nothing more than an outline of “the kingdom of God” in the Old Testament.

In contemplating “the kingdom of God” in the O. T. Scriptures great care must be taken to distinguish between two aspects of it. First, Scripture speaks of an unlimited kingdom of God, namely the sovereign rule of the Most High over all His vast dominions. Such scriptures as Dan 4:34-35 refer to this aspect of His kingdom: “And I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored Him that lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” This rule of God over all His creatures is universal, absolute, and eternal. But Scripture also speaks of a limited kingdom, which is restricted both in its scope and time, which is neither eternal nor universal; and it is not until we learn to distinguish between these two separate aspects of the “kingdom of God” that we rightly divide the Word of truth and secure the key which unlocks quite a little of the Old Testament.

This second aspect of God’s kingdom is what may be termed the dispensational one: it is localized and temporal. This is God’s kingdom on earth, where His rule is publicly manifested over and is owned by men. It was first established among the children of Israel, when the Lord Himself was in their midst, when He made the mercy seat upon the ark His throne, and dwelt between the cherubim. That was God’s “kingdom” on earth. In Jos 3:11, Jos 3:13—a passage which takes us back to a point not long after Jehovah took up His dwelling in Israel’s midst—occurs a striking expression: “Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into Jordan …… and it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.” It is to be carefully noted that here is the first time in Scripture that God assumed this title, and that here it was connected with the ark, and was assumed on the occasion of Israel’s passing through the Jordan: it was Jehovah formally taking possession of that land which He had given to His people. Had Israel remained in subjection to their King and obeyed His laws, not only would He have continued in their midst, but through them He would have governed the whole earth—as He will yet do in the Millennium. Proof of this is found in the fact that during the brief seasons they remained obedient, He overthrew their enemies and subdued the surrounding Gentiles.

But Israel waxed disobedient and rebelled against Jehovah their King. “And the Lord said unto Samuel, ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them’” (1Sa 8:7). For centuries after this the long sufferance of God continued to bear with them, but in the days of Ezekiel the Shekinah-glory—His manifested presence in their midst—departed. This is referred to in Eze 10:18, “Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim;” and Eze 11:23, “and the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.” First the Shekinah-glory left the ark in the holy place, then gradually receding, it left the temple, then going farther away it stood over the Mount of Olives, until it vanished from their sight. God had forsaken His earthly throne and dwelling-place.

Now at this point, God, in a dispensational way, assumed a new title. In 2Ch 36:23 we read, “Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia, all the kingdoms of the earth has the Lord God of heaven given me.” So in the opening verses of Ezra we are told that this same Cyrus made a proclamation saying, “The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem.” These are the first occurrences of this Divine title in Scripture. It is no mere casual expression, but the employment of it marked a great crisis and denoted a radical change in God’s dealings with the earth. It will be found that this is a characteristic title of God in those books which treat of the captivity of Israel. It emphasized the fact that, while His eternal throne can never be given up, God’s dispensational throne upon earth had been forsaken.

In the stead of His visible throne in Israel’s midst, God set up another throne upon earth, a throne which He delegated to men, and which was to continue throughout the times of the Gentiles—an expression which concerns the interval during which the Gentiles have dominion over Jerusalem. This is the theme and subject which is developed in the book of Daniel. In its second chapter, where we have recorded Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the Divine interpretation thereof, we find that the prophetic significance of the great image furnished an outline of the history of the times of the Gentiles and the character of their rule over this earth (see vv. 37-39).

The prophetic dream of Nebuchadnezzar looked forward not only to the end of the four Gentile world-empires, but also beyond them, contemplating another and a future empire which would be totally different in character. In verse 44 we are told, “And in the days of these kings (the “kingdom” before referred to) 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 the kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” This was the fifth kingdom, the promised kingdom of Messiah. Further details concerning it are given in Dan 7:13-14, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed”— compare Luk 19:12, Luk 19:15.

After Daniel, the voice of prophecy was soon silenced, and for four hundred years the people of Israel remained in a state of eager expectation, waiting for God to fulfill His promises. Next appeared John the Baptist, who took up the kingdom message just where the O. T. prophets had dropped it. In Mat 3:1-2 we read, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand—it was “at hand,” because the King Himself was about to appear in the midst of the Jews. When John said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” what do you suppose his Jewish hearers understood by that expression? They had the whole of the O. T. in their hands, but that is all which they then had. Obviously, all their thoughts would naturally turn to that kingdom which the Son of Man was to receive in heaven at the hands of the Ancient of days.

It is to be noted that the Baptist’s preaching was “in the wilderness of Judea.” The position occupied by the Messiah’s forerunner was a sad portend of the outcome of his mission. John appeared outside the temple, away from Jerusalem. And his message, “Repent ye,” bore witness to Israel’s sad spiritual condition—I do not need to say “Repent ye” to a people who are walking in communion with God. “Repent ye” was a word for those who were away from God.

Then appeared the One whom John heralded. The King Himself once more drew near to Israel on earth. He who had of old vacated His earthly throne and who had in the days of Ezekiel retired to heaven, and who from that time onwards became known as “The Lord God of heaven,” had in matchless grace incarnated Himself in human form, and because He was now once more upon earth, because the King Himself was present in Israel’s midst, the Kingdom was “at hand.” Therefore, we are told in Mat 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Both the “signs” (Mat 11:4; Mat 16:3) and the “powers” (Heb 2:3; Heb 6:5) of the kingdom—the Messianic, earthly one —.were displayed by Christ. Humanly speaking, everything was ready for the establishment of that which had been promised by Daniel. Nothing was wanting but this—loyal hearts to welcome and receive the Divine-King. But, alas! this was lacking: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (Joh 1:11).

The steps of the Messiah’s rejection are traced in Matthew 12, which we shall take up in our next chapter. Because Israel rejected their King, He temporarily rejected them, and therefore the setting up of His Messianic kingdom on this earth was postponed. The King would depart from this world and be absent for a lengthy season, before He returned again and set up His kingdom—see Luk 19:12, Luk 19:15. In the interval of His absence the “kingdom” takes another form. It is now His kingdom among the Gentiles, and is found wherever His authority if publicly owned; it is the sphere of Christian profession: in a word, Christendom.


The thirteenth chapter of Matthew (Mat 13:1-26, Mat 13:27-58) opens with these words “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside.” This statement clearly looks back to the preceding chapter, where the Holy Spirit has traced for us the various steps in Israel’s rejection of their King. At the beginning of Matthew 12 we find the Pharisees challenging the disciples of Christ because they had plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, which is followed by the Lord’s vindication of them. Next we are told, “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him” (v. 14). This is the first time that we read of anything like this in Matthew’s Gospel.

Next in Mat 12:22-24 we are told, “Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a demon, blind, and dumb; and He healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.” Up to that point this was the most remarkable miracle that the Lord Jesus had performed, in fact, it was three miracles in one. Such an impression was produced upon those who witnessed it that we are told, “and all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the Son of David ?”—not “is not this the Son of God ?” but “the Son of David,” i.e., the Messiah Himself. Following this we are told, “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons”—there they committed the sin for which there was no forgiveness.

Following our Lord’s sentence upon the Pharisees for their unpardonable blasphemy, we are next told, “Then certain of the scribes and the Pharisees answered, Master, we would see a sign from Thee” (Mat 12:38). His response was that the only sign which should be given to that evil and unfaithful generation should be that of “the sign of the prophet Jonah”—i.e., that after three days in the place of death the Servant of God should come forth and go unto the Gentiles. Following this, the Lord solemnly pronounced the coming judgment of Heaven upon that wicked generation, so that their last state should be worse than the first (Mat 12:43-45).

The chapter closes by telling us that while Christ yet talked to the people one said unto Him, “Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee.” in reply, He asked, “Who is My mother? and who are My brethren?” Then He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples and said, “Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in Heaven, the same is My brother and sister, and mother” (Mat 12:46-50). This was a severing o£ fleshly ties: it denoted the Savior’s break with Israel: it announced that henceforth He would only own as His kinsmen those who did the will of His Father which was in Heaven.

It will thus be seen that the opening words of Matthew 13 supply the first key to the interpretation of what follows. The parables of this chapter were spoken by Christ “the same day” as when the Pharisees had taken council together to destroy Him, as when they had committed the unpardonable sin, as when He had pronounced solemn judgment upon the Nation, and as when He had severed the fleshly ties which united Him to the Jews and had intimated that henceforth there should be a people united to Him by spiritual bonds. Thus the relation between Matthew 12 and Matthew 13 is that of cause to effect; in other words, Matthew 12 makes known the cause which led up to Christ’s acting as He did in the thirteenth chapter: that cause was Israel’s rejection of their King and His rejection of them. His action in Mat 13:1 was indicative of a great dispensational crisis, it was an anticipation of what is found developed at length in the books of Acts—God, temporarily, turning away from the Jews and turning unto the Gentiles.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside,” The “house” is the place of ordered relationship and natural ties. This was now left, Jesus “went out” of it! Symbolically, it was a confirmation of His own words at the close of Matthew 12: the link which had bound Him to the Jews was now severed. Christ’s next act was to take His place by the seaside. This also had a deep symbolical significance for those who had eyes to see. The “sea” speaks of fallen man in the restlessness and barrenness of nature, of man apart from God, and thus of the Gentiles (F. W. G.). If the reader will turn to Dan 7:1-2; Rev 17:15, etc., he will there find this figure defined.

“And He spoke many things unto them in parables (Mat 13:3). This marked a new departure in Christ’s method of teaching. The first twelve chapters of this Gospel will be searched in vain for any parables. Hitherto Christ had instructed the people in plain language, using simple terms of speech; but now His message was veiled and His meaning hidden. This explains what we are told in the tenth verse: “And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables? The disciples were surprised: not being accustomed to this form of teaching, they were at a loss to account for it here. The Lord’s answer to their question confirmed what we have said on verse 1. His answer is recorded in verses Mat 13:11-15 : our Lord’s quotation there of the solemn words from Isaiah 6 supplied further proof that the Nation had rejected their King. In consequence of this rejection He had taken a place of distance from them, as this new form of teaching plainly evidenced. It is a principle exemplified all through the Scriptures that, wherever parables or symbolic utterances were employed they are addressed to a people estranged from God—hence the absence of them in the Epistles.

Turning once more to Mat 13:11, we find here the second important key which unlocks the contents of our present chapter. The Lord Himself there designates the seven parables “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” But before we proceed further let it be pointed out that the word “kingdom” does not primarily refer to territory. Webster’s first meaning of this word is “royal authority, sovereign power, rule, dominion.” The term “kingdom” refers, directly, not to territory but authority, not to a locality but to sovereignty. Let us borrow a simple illustration. France was once a “kingdom,” but today it is a “republic.” Yet there has been no territorial change: the country is the same, and it is inhabited by the same race of people. It is no longer a “kingdom” for the simple reason that it no longer acknowledges the sovereign authority of any king; instead, it is governed by the public, and is therefore a “republic.” The public are the rulers, authority being vested in those whom they elect to office. Thus it will be seen from this simple illustration that the term “kingdom” looks not to a localized sphere of territory, but refers to the form of its government and speaks of the sovereignty of its ruler. Therefore the “kingdom of heaven” is not heaven itself, but a people who own the sovereign authority of heaven.

Further proof of what has been said above will be found in the Savior’s words to Peter as recorded in Mat 16:19: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” “Keys” speak of two things: they are the symbol of authority and they are for the purpose of opening something and giving admission and access. When I give to some person the key to my house he has the right of authority to enter it. In Rev 1:18 Christ is spoken of as having “the keys of death and hades,” which means that He has complete authority over them. Now to Peter were “given” the keys of the kingdom of heaven, a delegated authority being in view. In the book of Acts the meaning of the Lord’s words to Peter are made plain.

In the second chapter of the Acts we find Peter using those “keys” on the day of Pentecost—opening the door of the kingdom to the Jews. In Acts 10 we find Peter using those “keys” again—giving admission to the Gentiles into the kingdom. It is very striking to weigh the details in the last mentioned: the particular Gentiles referred to were Cornelius and his household. Now in Acts 9 we read of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and, as we know, he was the apostle to the Gentiles. Yet, when the Lord appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for one of His servants, it was not Paul but Peter that was invited, for it was the latter and not the former who held the “keys”! That which Peter gave admission into was not heaven nor was it the Church, but the sphere of Christian profession. Thus the language of Mat 13:11 assures us that the parables which follow have respect unto Christendom, i.e., that sphere where the authority of heaven and the sovereignty of Christ are professedly owned. Before leaving Mat 16:19, we may add that a successional and vested right in “St. Peter’s keys” is a manifest absurdity; for this reason: Peter left the door of the kingdom wide open!

The eleventh verse of Matthew 13 supplies yet another key, in the word “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” In Scripture the term “mystery” signifies a Divine secret made known by the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by what is told us in verse 35, namely, that Christ was here uttering “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Thus, in these parables, Christ was making known that which was outside the scope of O.T. prediction, something which God had not made known to Israel through the prophets. This needs to be carefully noted, for it refutes the popular interpretation of these parables.

There are many who regard the parables of Matthew 13 as containing predictions of the ushering in of the Millennium: those of the Mustard-tree and the Leaven are regarded as being parallel with the promise that “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” But that statement is found in Isa 11:9: that was no “secret” in O.T. times! Therefore, none of the parables in Matthew 13 can be treating of the same subject as Isa 11:9, or what is stated in verse 35 would not be true. No; Matthew 13 deals with something nowhere revealed in the O.T.; it is an entirely new revelation.

The number of parables here, seven, intimates that they furnish a complete outline or setting forth of something, and that something is the History of Christendom. What is in view in the first four parables is the sphere of human responsibility, and hence it is a picture of failure that is presented to us. In the first, only one out of the four castings of the good Seed yields any fruit. In the second, the crop as a whole is spoiled by the mingling of the tares among the wheat. In the third, the little mustard-seed develops into a great tree, whose branches afford shelter for the agents of Satan. In the fourth, the three measures of meal are, ultimately, completely corrupted by means of the leaven surreptitiously introduced into them.

Look where you will in Scripture, and it is the same: whenever God has committed anything to man as a responsible creature, he has failed. God placed Adam in Eden on the ground of human responsibility and he fell. God gave to Noah the sword of magisterial authority and he failed to govern himself. God gave to Israel the law, and they broke it: before Moses came down from the mount they were worshipping the golden calf. God instituted priesthood in Israel, and Aaron and his sons were duly consecrated to their office; but on the very first day, two of them offered strange fire and judgment fell upon them. God instituted kingship in Israel and failure was written large upon this. God endowed Nebuchadnezzar with power, but he became so bloated with self-importance that he made an image to himself and demanded that all should worship it. Nor has the Christian profession proven any exception. “Grievous wolves shall enter the flock after my departure,” said the apostle Paul (Acts 20), and they did. The evil introduced by Satan at the beginning of this dispensation has never been eradicated, nor will it be till the harvest-time. Instead of things getting better, they will get worse—until Christ spews out (Rev 3:16) the whole system which bears His name. But, blessed be His name, there is no failure with God. In spite of man’s failure and Satan’s opposition, He has been slowly but surely working out His eternal purpose. Act 15:18 declares, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world,” and a clear proof of this is given us in the unmistakable fulfillment of the prophetical parables of Matthew 13.

The seven parables of Matthew 13 divide into four and three, which is the usual division of a septenary series. The first four were spoken to the multitude on the seashore, the last three to the disciples inside the house. Hence, the first four give us the external view in the history of Christendom, while the last three portray that which is more internal and spiritual. The first four are arranged in two pairs: the first—the wheat and the tares—giving us individual aspects; the second pair—the mustard-tree and the corrupted meal—set forth the corporate view. Again: the first parable shows us a sowing, while the fifth and sixth show the resultant crop. The second parable also shows us a sowing, while the third and fourth give us the resultant crop. If it is asked, Why is the “crop” of the second sowing given before the harvest from the first? the answer is, It is ever the order of Scripture to give us first that which is natural, then that which is spiritual. In our next article we shall take up the parable of the Sower.

N.B.—For not a little in this chapter we are indebted to the writings of the late F. W. Grant.

The Parable of the Sower (Mat 13:3-23)

“And He spoke many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” The careful reader will notice an omission here, namely, that this parable does not begin with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” This cannot be without some good reason, for that which is omitted from Holy Writ is oftentimes as meaningful as what is recorded. Each of the six parables which follow do begin with this clause. The reason why it is left out at the beginning of the first is not difficult to account for. As we have shown in a previous article, “the kingdom of heaven” is an expression which, in the present dispensation, has reference to Christendom—the sphere of Christian profession, that circle where the sovereignty of Christ is publicly owned. But the “kingdom of heaven” did not assume this form until after Christ had returned to the Father. Thus, because this first parable contemplates the period of time covered by our Lord’s earthly ministry these words are appropriately omitted. The first parable forms an introduction to those which follow: it describes the work of Christ preparatory to the establishment of His kingdom among the Gentiles, though the principle of it is of wider application.

Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” In Mar 4:3 we find that this same parable is introduced by the words, “Hearken, behold, there went out a sower to sow.” This word “hearken” indicated that the Savior was about to communicate something of unusual importance. The figure He was using was so simple as to be almost unimpressive, so that there was a danger of His hearers regarding it as of little account; therefore the “Hearken!” “Behold” was also designed to arrest attention; it was a word bidding us to carefully ponder what follows.

The action of Christ at the beginning of this parable was both tragic and blessed. Speaking from the human side, it ought to have been, “A Reaper went forth to reap,” or “An Husbandman went forth to gather fruit.” For fifteen hundred years there had been a liberal sowing of the Seed in Israel, by Moses, David, the prophets, and last of all John the Baptist. But harvest for Jehovah there was not. Touchingly is this brought out in Isaiah 5: “My well-beloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isa 5:1-2).

The blessedness of Christ’s action here is to be seen in His wondrous condescension and grace in stooping so low as to take the humble place of a “Sower,” hence the “Behold.” The words “went forth to sow,” or as Mark’s Gospel puts it “went out were indicative of the great dispensational change which was soon to be introduced. There was no longer to be a planting of vines or fig-trees in Israel, but a going out of the mercy of God unto the Gentiles; therefore what we have here is the broadcast sowing of the Seed in the field at large, for as verse 38 tells us “the field is the world.”

One great design of this opening parable is to teach us the measure of success which the Gospel would receive among the Gentiles. In other words, we are shown what the results of this broadcast sowing of the Seed would be. First of all, most of the ground upon which it fell would prove unfavorable: the hard, shallow, and thorny soils were uncongenial to productiveness. Second, external opposition would be encountered: the birds of the air would come and catch it away. Third, the sun would scorch, and that which was lacking in moisture at its roots would wither away. Only a fractional part of the Seed sown would yield any increase, and thus all expectations for the ultimate universal triumph of the Gospel were removed.

The plain teaching of our present parable should at once dissipate the optimistic but vain dreams of post-millenarians. It answers clearly and conclusively the following questions: What is to be the result of the broadcast sowing of the seed? Will all the world receive it and every part of the field produce fruit? Will the seed spring up and bear a universal harvest, so that not a single grain of it is lost? Our Savior explicitly tells us that the greater part of the seed produces no fruit, so that no world-wide conquests by the Gospel, in the Christianizing of the race, are to be looked for. Nor was there any hint that, as the age progressed, there would be any change, and that later sowers would meet with greater success, so that the wayside, stony, and thorny ground hearers would cease to exist or would rarely be found. Instead of that, the Lord Himself has plainly warned us that instead of the fruitage from the Gospel showing an increase, there would be a marked decrease; for when speaking of the fruit borne He said, “which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty” (v. 23). These words are too plain to be misunderstood. We believe that the “hundred fold” had reference to the yield borne in the days of the apostles; the “sixty” at the time of the Reformation; the “thirty” the days in which we are now living. The history of the last nineteen centuries has witnessed the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction; only a fractional percentage in any land, city or village has responded to the Gospel!

Most of the details of this parable are concerned not with the Sower or the Seed, but with the various soils in which the Seed fell. In His interpretation the Lord Jesus explained the different soils as representing various classes of those who hear the Word. They are four in number, and may be classified as hard-hearted, shallow-hearted, half-hearted, and whole-hearted. It is important to see that in the parable Christ is speaking not from the standpoint of the divine counsels—for there can be no failure there—but from that of human accountability. What we have here is the Word of the kingdom addressed to man’s responsibility, the effect it has on him, and his response. Let us now look briefly at each class separately:

1. The wayside hearers. “And when He sowed, some fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up . . . when any one hears the word of the kingdom and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received Seed by the wayside” (vv. 4, 19). Here, the heart which receives the Seed is unreceptive and unresponsive. It is like the public highway, hardened by the constant traffic of the world. Though the Word is said to be “sown in his heart” it finds no real lodgment in it, and this is what makes it so solemn. The “engrafted word” is that which is received “with meekness,” and for this there must be a laying aside of “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas 1:21). It is at this point that the individual’s accountability comes in, the responsibility of the one who hears the Word.

It is to be noted that it is “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and understands it not, then comes the wicked one and catches away that which was sown in his heart.” Those who hear the Word are responsible to “understand” it. It is true that the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, but he ought to; and that they are “foolishness unto him,” but it ought not so to be. As we are told in 1Co 8:2, “if any man think that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” Understanding of the Word is obtained from God alone, and it is the responsibility of all who bear and read His Word to cry unto Him, “That which I see not, teach Thou me” (Job 34:32). His promise is “the meek will He teach His way” (Psa 25:9). But if there is no humbling of the heart before God, no seeking wisdom from above, then will there be no “understanding” of the Word; and the Devil will “catch away” that which we have heard or read: but we shall have only ourselves to blame!

2. The stony-ground hearers. “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away . . . He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he which hears the Word, and anon with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures for awhile: for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word, by and by he is offended” (Mat 13:5-6, Mat 13:20-21). The type of ground that is here referred to, is that where the bed is of rock, with only a thin layer of earth over it. In this shallow soil the seed is received, but the growth is but superficial. Our Lord’s interpretation at once identifies the particular class of hearers which are here in view. At first they promise well, but later prove very disappointing. What we have here is lack of depth. The emotions have been moved, but the conscience has not been searched; there is a natural “joy” but no deep conviction or true repentance. When a Divine work of grace is wrought in a soul, the first effects of the Word upon it are not to produce peace and joy, but contrition, humility and sorrow.

The sad thing is, that today almost everything connected with modern evangelistic (?) effort is calculated to produce just this very type of hearer. The “bright singing,” the sentimentality of the hymns (?), the preacher’s appeals to the emotions, the demand of the churches for visible and quick “results,” produce nothing but superficial returns. Sinners are urged to make a prompt “decision,” are rushed to the “penitent form,” and then assured that all is well with them; and the poor deluded soul leaves with a false and evanescent “joy.” And the deplorable thing is that many of the Lord’s own people are supporting and fellow-shipping this Christ-dishonoring and soul-deceiving burlesque of true Gospel ministry.

“But endures for awhile.” “This is the flesh at its fairest; capable of coming so near to the kingdom of God, and all the more manifesting its hopeless nature. There is the unbroken rock behind that never yields to the Word, and gives it no lodgment; and the class of hearers pictured here are born of the flesh only. Let things be outwardly favorable to profession, it is plain that the number of these may multiply largely, and may stick like dead leaves to a tree that has had no rough blast to shake them off. But life is none the more in them” (The Numerical Bible).

3. The thorny-ground hearers. “And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them… He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the Word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the Word, and he becomes unfruitful” (vv. 7, 22, Mat 13:7, Mat 13:22). In Mar 4:9 the “lusts of other things entering in” and in Luk 8:14 the “pleasures of this life” are named as additional hindrances represented by the “thorns.” Here it is not so much inward causes as it is external snares that render the third class of hearers unfruitful.

Thus the Lord has here made known what it is that, from the human side, makes so much of the Seed sown, unproductive. The reasons why the preaching of the Word does not produce a spiritual harvest in all who hear it are, first, the natural hardness of man’s heart and the resultant opposition of Satan; second, the superficiality of the flesh; third, the attractions and distractions of the world. These e the things which produce barrenness, and they are recorded for the Christian’s learning and warning. Thus too are the servants of Christ instructed what to expect, and informed what it is which will oppose their labors—the Devil, the flesh and the world.

4. The good-ground hearers. “But other fell into good ground and brought forth fruit… He that received seed into the good ground is he that hears the Word, and understands it; which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty” (vv. 8,23). It is to be carefully noted that when He was defining the good-ground hearer, Christ did not say “this is he in whom a Divine work of grace has been wrought,” or “whose heart has been made receptive by the operation of the Holy Spirit.” True it is that this must precede any sinner’s receiving the Word so that he becomes fruitful, yet, this is not the particular aspect of the Truth with which Christ is here dealing. As already stated, He is speaking here not of the accomplishment of God’s counsels, but from the standpoint of human responsibility.

What the Lord is here making known is, that which the hearer of the Word must himself seek grace to do, if he is to be fruitful. The supplementary accounts given of this parable by Mark and Luke must be carefully compared. In Luk 8:15 we are told, first, that that Word must be received “in an honest and good heart.” Second, that they “keep it.” And third, “bring forth fruit with patience.” Such are the conditions of fruitfulness: an unprejudiced mind and an open heart; understanding the Word received; holding it fast, perseverance.

In closing let us call attention to one or two practical lessons inculcated by this parable.

First, the preciousness of the Seed. If there were only one grain of wheat left in the world today, and it was lost, all the efforts of man could not reproduce it. Thus it is with the Word: were it taken from us all the wit and wisdom of man could not replace it. Then let us value, love, and. study it more.

Second, the inconspicuousness of the Sower. Scarcely anything at all is told us in the parable about Him, beyond the simple fact that He actually sowed the Seed. The emphasis is upon the Seed, the various kinds of soil and the obstacles to and conditions of fruitfulness. Why is this? Because the personality of the sower and the method of sowing are of secondary importance. A little child may drop a seed as effectively as a man; the wind may carry it, and accomplish as much as though an angel had planted it! All—not merely preachers only—may be “sowers.”

Third, the conditions of fruitfulness. There is much “rocky ground” in the garden of each of our souls: then despise not God’s hammer and ploughshare. There are many “thorns” in each of our lives which must be plucked up if there is to be more room for fruit! Finally, there needs to be much prayer for “understanding,” “patience,” and hiding of the Word in our hearts so that we shall “keep” it.

Fourth, the fullness of the parable. There are some who decry the idea that we should seek for a meaning to every detail in our Lord’s parables, and tell us we should be content with discovering its general significance. But such a loose conception is manifestly condemned by Christ’s own example. In His interpretation He gave a meaning to every detail; not only so, but by comparing the three accounts of this parable, we learn that the “thorns” represent at least four distinct things! How this shows us the need of carefully studying and prayerfully meditating upon every jot and tittle of Holy Writ!


AW Pink (1886-1952): The Prophetic Parables (p2)

The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13 (p2)

with The Prophetic Scope of Matthew 24 (p4)
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13

The Parable of the Tares  (Mat 13:24-30)

This parable forms the second of the series, and its substance corresponds with the meaning of this numeral. One is the number of unity, for it stands alone, excluding all difference. But with two there is a difference, another. This other may be either for good or evil. In its evil sense two stands for difference, contrast, and so, enmity. Two is the first number which may be divided, and hence it stands for division, conflict. If we refer back to the opening chapter of Scripture we find that it was on the second day’s work that God “divided the light from the darkness, and the waters under the firmament from the waters above it.” The second in any number of things generally has evil and enmity stamped upon it. Take the second statement in the Bible: the first one is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” but the second statement tells us “and the earth became without form and void.” Thus it is with the seven parables of Matthew 13: the first one describes the work of Christ; the second the work of Satan!

The Parable of the Tares supplies an explanation of Christendom as it has existed all through these nineteen centuries, and as it is today; a mixed state of affairs; the true and the false side by side; Rome and her daughters masquerading under the guise of Christianity. The “field” represents the religious world, in which the wheat and the tares “grow together’’. This mixed state of affairs has resulted from the work of the enemy at the beginning of this dispensation, the effects of which are with us till this day.

This parable, like the former, also supplies a most conclusive refutation of the unscriptural dreams of post-millenniarians. They believe that, through the preaching of the Gospel (under the blessing of God), the cause of Christ will extend, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But Christ here explicitly declared that the wheat and the tares should “grow together until the harvest,” which He defined as “the end of the age.” He gave no hint that the “tares” would gradually die out, or that they would decrease in numbers; but announced that, at the end, they would be found in such quantity as to need binding “in bundles.”

The connection between this parable and the former one is most marked. The Sower of the good seed is the same, “the Son of Man;” the “field” is the same, “the world” (v. 38), i.e. the religious world. But there is one thing said about the “seed” here which is very striking. In verse 19 it is called “the word of the kingdom,” while in verse 38 we read “the good seed are the children of the kingdom.” Like produces like: the word of the kingdom produces sons of the kingdom: the fruit is according to the Seed!

The prominent thing in this second parable of the series is the Enemy and his work. Let us consider:

1. The Time when he worked.

This was “while men slept” (v. 25); that is, at nighttime. In other words, it was under cover of the darkness that the Devil sowed his tares! This is characteristic of Satan, for he hates the light: secrecy, stealth, dishonesty, are his favorite tactics. But mark you, the Sower Himself did not sleep: He slumbers not, neither is weary. Nor does Satan. He is ever on the alert, going about, “seeking whom he may devour.” He is the personification of perpetual motion.

“While men slept.” The reference is to the unwatchful condition which soon developed among the Lord’s people. The presence of the “tares” among the wheat was evidenced at a very early date. To the Thessalonians the apostle declared, “The mystery of iniquity does already work”(2Th 2:7). John had to say, “You have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists” (1Jn 2:18). Jude wrote, “There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (v. 4). To the Church at Pergamos Christ said, “I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam . . . . so hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans which thing I hate” (Rev 2:14-15).

2. The Method he employed.

First, we are told that the Son of Man sowed good seed in His field (vv. 24, 37)- Then we are informed that the Devil turned farmer (v. 25). Satan is no originating genius, but is ever an imitator. He produces counterfeits of the works of God. It is important for Christians to know this, so that they may be on their guard. If we study Scripture we shall not be ignorant of his devices (2Co 2:11). It is to be carefully noticed that as the Enemy mimicked Christ he sowed neither thorns nor thistles—had he done so his work had been easily detected, and there had been no difficulty in distinguishing the false from the true. No, he sowed “tares,” or better, “darnel.” This is a degenerate wheat, and so closely resembles the genuine article that the one cannot be distinguished from the other until harvest-time. That the “servants of the householder” recognized the tares as soon as they sprang up does not conflict with our last statement, for it is the apostles who are here in view, and they were specially endowed with the Holy Spirit, and so had a greater measure of discernment than any since.

These “tares” are spurious Christians. When the “servants” first discovered what the enemy had done, they wanted to root out the tares (v. 28). But the Master forbade them, saying, “Nay; lest while you gather up the tares, you root up also the wheat with them” (v. 29). It is only when they are both fully ripe that the farmer can with safety separate them, for it is not until then that it is seen there is no grain in the ears of the tares. Until the harvest time the tares present a fair picture to the eye. As these imitation blades, green and flourishing, grow side by side with the real wheat, there is every prospect of a bountiful yield. But appearances are deceptive, and much of the product will prove only a disappointment and mockery to those who have spent so much time and labor on their cultivation. “All is not gold that glitters.” At the Harvest-time there is going to be a great disillusionment. Then it will appear that Christ’s flock is a “little” one.

This parable, then, gives a remarkable expose of the methods employed by Satan. He seeks to destroy God’s testimony on earth by introducing a spurious Christianity, a clever imitation of the real thing. And this parable reveals that he works from within: he sowed the “tares” among the wheat! Satan has an imitation Gospel. This is clearly implied in the solemn warning given in Gal 1:7-9. It is more plainly intimated in 2 Corinthians 11, where we are told “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness (vv. 13-15). The principal agents of Satan are to be found, not in the drinking-houses or race-courses, etc., but in our seminaries and in the pulpits! These are not advocating lawlessness, but are preaching “righteousness;” but “being ignorant of Gods righteousness” they are “going about to establish their own righteousness” (Rom 10:3). It is a mingling of Law and Gospel, and multitudes are deceived thereby.

Satan has an imitation Church. Christ is now building His Church, a Church which will include all the saved of this present dispensation, and none who are not members thereof will be saved. The Devil has caricatured this also. Romanism professes itself to be the “spouse of Christ,” and her ministers insist there is no salvation to be found outside of their pale. They profess the name of Christ, and hold some of the great fundamentals of His teaching. But artfully mingled with these are the deadly errors of Paganism. But so clever is the imitation, so subtly are the Scriptures appealed to in support of their pretentions, that millions are deluded by their soul-destroying system. “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Pro 14:12).

Satan will yet be permitted to bring forth an imitation Christ. This will be his masterpiece. Much is said in Scripture concerning him. He is the great antichrist. He will have power to work miracles; he will at first claim to be the true Christ come back to earth. Multitudes will be deceived by him so that all the world will wander after him (Rev 13:4). Yes, the Devil sows “tares,” imitation wheat—not thorns and thistles.

3. The Enemy’s Success.

It is to be observed that in this parable we do not read of any opposition or hindrances to the growth of the tares, like we did in the first parable concerning the wheat. No mention is here made of any soil uncongenial to the Devil’s seed. There is no “wayside” ground, too hard for them to penetrate. There are no “thorns” to choke them, for they will thrive anywhere. There is no mention made of “fowls of the air” coming to catch them away. All external conditions and circumstances are favorable to the growth of this seed. No cultivation is needed; they will grow of themselves.

The enemy’s success is plainly intimated by the prominence given to the “tares” in this parable. This comes out very clearly and most solemnly in verse 36. When Jesus had sent the multitude away, and had gone into the house with His disciples, they said, “Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field,” not “the parable of the good seed and the tares” (see vv. 24, 25). It is the tares and not the wheat which predominate and occupy the larger portion of the field. The mention of “bundles” in verse 30 bears out the same thought.

The Owner of the field forbade any interference with the tares. This is a point which has perplexed many. Why did the Lord permit the Enemy to sow his “tares”? And why has He permitted them for so long, to occupy the principal part of the field? In other words, Why has God allowed the Devil such long-continued freedom? This is not so difficult to answer as many may suppose. They overlook the fact that the leaders of this world rejected its rightful Sovereign; that the Jews preferred Barabbas. Having chosen a murderer in preference to the Lord of Life, both Jews and Gentiles have reaped what they sowed. The Devil was “a murderer from the beginning” (Joh 8:14), and having refused the Savior, this great soul-destroyer has ruled over them ever since!

The time for this to be “the end of the world” (v. 39)—There is no difficulty in this expression if we bear in mind that there is a world of time, as well as a world of matter. But if we understand it to signify the “end of the earth,” or “world-system,” then it is manifestly erroneous. Personally, we much prefer the marginal rendering of the R. V.—”consummation of the age.” The Greek word is not “kosmos,” as in Joh 1:10, but “aion.” To show that we are not altering the translation in order to suit our own views, turn to Heb 9:26: “But now once in the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” What can be made of that? If by “world” be understood the earth, or the world-system, then it is a manifest absurdity, for that certainly did not “end at the crucifixion of Christ. But if “aion be rendered “age,” there is no difficulty. Thus Mat 13:39 should read, “The harvest is the end of the age;” there is another Age to follow this, namely, the Millennium. Further proof that the “harvest” referred to in Mat 13:39 takes place at the end of this age, rather than at the end of time, is found in Rev 14:14-15, which synchronizes. After Revelation 14 is fulfilled comes Rev 20:1-6, which treats of the Millennium.

Let us note now the order of its procedure. “In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into My barn” (v. 30). The tares are gathered into “bundles” before the wheat is actually garnered. In spite of their promising and attractive appearance, everything which has not sprung from the Seed sown by the Son of man is ultimately to be consigned to the everlasting burnings: as He Himself declared, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up” (Mat 15:13). But what we would particularly direct attention to is the “gathering together” of the tares into bundles. There is no actual casting of them into the fire at this preliminary stage, no removal of them from the field. It is the separation of the tares in the field, so as to leave the “wheat” distinct, and ready for garnering. The wheat is gathered into the Barn before the tares are “burned”—sure proof of the removal of the saints from this scene prior to the descent of God’s judgment of the world. The gathering of the wheat corresponds with 1Th 4:16-17.

As we survey current events in the light of Mat 13:30 it is abundantly clear that the process of binding the tares into bundles is proceeding in various directions, and proceeding with amazing rapidity. In fact it is one of the most prominent of the “signs of the times.”

Take the commercial world. The individual is fast becoming a non-entity, as most business men know to their sorrow. Co-operation, organization, amalgamation, are the order of the day. Trusts, combines, syndicates, unions, are the “bundles” into which the interests of industry are now being bound. “Gather the tares into bundles;” the Divine command has already gone forth!

Take the social world. Clubs, guilds, fraternities, are multiplied on every side. “Class distinctions” are more and more resented by the masses. Social barriers which have existed for centuries are rapidly being broken down; whilst in many countries, socialism and bolshevism—which aim at the destruction of individual enterprise—are seeking to gather all into one great State “bundle.” Yes, the word “gather” the tares into bundles has already gone forth!

In the ecclesiastical sphere the same thing is equally noticeable and prominent. Interdenominational efforts and movements are multiplying. Only last week in this city, on what is known as “good Friday,” members and preachers from churches of four or five denominations met together, and held what they term the celebration of “the Lord’s Supper”—and this in a church whose pastor is a pronounced modernist. What a farce! If some noted Evangelist comes to the city a “combined” meeting must be held. The unification of Christendom is the ideal of many, and the goal for which her leaders are aiming. Protestantism is virtually a spent force, and the hindrances and obstacles against the Papacy yet gathering all Christendom under her wings are rapidly disappearing. Those who understand prophecy know well that it will not be long ere she attains that ambition for which she has so long worked, and that one huge ecclesiastical “bundle” will be formed. Yes, the command to “gather” the tares has gone forth!

The same principle is more and more regulating the diplomatic affairs of the earth. The leading “Powers” are working increasingly in conjunction and co-operation. Witness the demands for concerted action in connection with the ultimatum to China. The League of Nations is another movement in the direction of forming one more great “bundle.” Yes, my readers, unless we are blind—and blind we certainly are, if we cannot see it—the binding of the tares into “bundles” is already going on before our very eyes: it has not only commenced, but is far advanced. Prophecy is daily becoming history. The next thing will be the removal of the wheat!

Let us now draw a few practical conclusions from this parable. First, see here the worthlessness of “reform” movements and efforts. It is an idle dream that we can improve the world by gathering out noxious weeds—banish drunkenness and immorality, purify politics, etc. Men might as well attempt to purify the waters of the Dead Sea! The Lord has said, “Let both grow together till the harvest.” Then do not waste your time on the cultivation of the tares. “Preach the Gospel” is our marching orders.

Second, what a solemn warning is here against unwatchfulness! It was “while men slept” that the Enemy came and sowed his tares. Beware of sloth and the relaxation of vigilance. Remember the words of Christ to His disciples, “What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch (Mar 13:37). Heed the warning of Rom 13:11-12,—it is high time to awake out of sleep!

Third, mark Christ’s love for His own. When forbidding the servants to root up the tares, He said, “Nay, lest while you gather up the tares, you root up also the wheat with them” (v. 29). How much He must think of the “wheat”: he had rather the “tares” grow, than that a single blade of the wheat be injured!

Fourth, how terrible is our Lord’s description of the ultimate doom of the wicked! “And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (v. 42). The “Furnace of Fire” is no mere superstition of the “dark ages,” but a dread reality, as multitudes now living will yet discover to their eternal misery, it is the certain portion of all who continue to reject the Lord Jesus Christ. It is unspeakably solemn to note that the most awe-inspiring descriptions of Hell, to be found anywhere in the Bible, came from the lips of Love incarnate! It is to be carefully noted that whilst Christ interpreted every figure in this parable, see verses 38-40, the “fire” He did not explain. It is literal! O my reader, if you have not already done so, “Flee from the wrath to come” ere it be too late. Flee to Christ for refuge.

The 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” (Mat 13:31-32).

It should be evident to all, that our understanding of this parable hinges upon a correct interpretation of its three central figures: the mustard-seed, the great tree which sprang from it, and the “birds of the air” which came and lodged in its branches. What does each represent ?

Now there are few passages of Scripture which have suffered more at the hands of commentators than the third and fourth parables of Matthew 13. They have been turned completely upside down; that is to say, they have been made to mean the very opposite of what the Lord Jesus taught. The main cause of this erroneous interpretation may be traced back to a wrong understanding of the expression “kingdom of heaven.” Those who have failed in their definition of this term are, necessarily, all at sea, when they come to the details of these parables.

The popular and current explanation of these parables is that they were meant to announce the glorious success of the Gospel. Thus, that of the mustard-seed is regarded as portraying the rapid extension of Christianity and the expansion of the Church of Christ. Beginning insignificantly and obscurely, its proportions have increased immensely, until ultimately it shall cover the earth. Let us first show how untenable and impossible this interpretation is:

First, it must be steadily borne in mind that these seven parables form part of one connected and complete discourse whose teaching must necessarily be consistent and harmonious throughout. Therefore, it is obvious that this third one cannot conflict with the teaching of the first two. In the first parable, instead of drawing a picture of a field in which the good Seed took root and flourished in every part of it, our Lord pointed out that most of its soil was unfavorable, and that only a fractional proportion bore an increase. Moreover, instead of promising that the good-ground section of the field would yield greater and greater returns, He announced that there would be a decreasing harvest—”some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.’’ In the second parable, our Lord revealed the field as over-sown with “tares,” and declared that these should continue until the harvest-time, which He defined as “the end of the age.” This fixes beyond all doubt the evil consequences of the Enemy’s work, and positively forbids the expectation of a world won to Christ during this present dispensation, Christ plainly warned us that the evil effects of the Devil’s labors at the beginning of the age would never be repaired. The crop as a whole is spoiled! Thus this third parable cannot teach that the failure of things in the hands of men will be removed and reversed.

Second, the figure here selected by Christ should at once expose the fallacy of the popular interpretation. Surely our Lord would never have taken a mustard-seed. which afterwards became a “tree,” ever rooting itself deeper and deeper in the earth, to portray that people whose calling, hope, citizenship, and destiny is heavenly. Again and again He affirmed that His people were “not of the world.” Again, a great tree with its towering branches speaks of prominence and loftiness, but lowliness and suffering, not prominence and exaltation, are the present portion of the New Testament saints. The more any church of Christ climbs the ladder of worldly fame the more it sinks spiritually. That which is represented by this “tree” is not a people who are “strangers and pilgrims” down here, but a system whose roots lie deeply in the earth and which aims at greatness and expansion in the world.

Third, that which Christ here describes is a monstrosity. We are aware that this is denied by some, but our Lord’s own words are final. He tells us that when this mustard-seed is grown it is the “greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree” (v. 32). “Herbs” are an entirely different specie from trees. That which distinguished them is that their stems never develop woody tissue, but live only long enough for the development of flowers and seeds. But this “herb” became a “tree;” that is to say, it developed into something entirely foreign to its very nature and constitution. How strange that sober men should have deemed this unnatural growth, this abnormal production, a fitting symbol of the saints of God in their corporate form!

Some tell us that the soil of Palestine is a most congenial one for the growth of mustard, and that it is quite common for it to develop into goodly-sized shrubs. But cannot the very ones who advance this as an objection to the pre-millennial interpretation of this parable see that it forms an argument against what they contend for? Clearly the “field,” all through Matthew 13, is the world. Is, then, “the world” a favorable place for the growth of that kingdom which Christ solemnly and expressly said was “not of this world” (Joh 18:36)? Is this world, where the flesh and the Devil unite in opposing all that concerns Christ and His interests, a congenial soil for Christianity? Either the world must cease to be what it is—”the enemy of God”—or the Seed must change its character, before the one will be favorable to the other. And this is just what our parable does teach: the “herb” becomes a “tree.”

Fourth, the “birds” lodging in the branches of this tree makes altogether against the current interpretation. If Scripture be compared with Scripture it will be found that these “birds” symbolize Satan and his agents. Let not the reader be turned aside by the fact that the “dove,” and in some passages the “eagle,” represents that which is good. That which we must now attempt to define is the actual word “birds,” or better, “fowlsas the Greek word is rendered in verse 4. In Gen 15:11 we are told that the “fowls came down upon the carcasses” (the bodies of the sacrifices) and that “Abram drove them away.” Here, beyond doubt, they prefigure the efforts of Satan to render null and void the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus; but this, the Father (foreshadowed in Abraham) has prevented.

Again, in Deuteronomy 28, where we have the curses which were to come upon Israel for their disobedience, we are told, “And thy carcass shall be meat unto all fowls of the air” (v. 26). The last time the term occurs in Scripture is in Rev 18:2, where we are told that fallen Babylon becomes the “habitation of demons, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”

But we do not have to go outside of Matthew 13 itself to discover what Christ referred to under the figure of these “birds.” The Greek word in verse 32 is precisely the same as that which is rendered “fowls” in verse 4, which are explained in verse 19 as “the wicked.” How, then, can this great “tree” represent the true Church of Christ, while its branches afford shelter for the Devil and his emissaries?

Coming now to the positive side, if we let Scripture interpret Scripture, the great “tree” is easily identified. in Dan 4:10-12 we read, “I saw, and behold a tree was 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 ends 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 heavens dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.” Who cannot fail to see that we have in this vision of Nebuchadnezzar the key to our parable? In Dan 4:20-22 we have the inspired interpretation of the vision: “The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong . . . it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong, for thy greatness is grown, and reaches unto heaven, and thy dominion to the ends of the earth.” Thus, the “tree” was a figure of a mighty earthly kingdom or empire.

Again, in Ezekiel 31 we have the same figure used: “Behold the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field. Therefore, his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth. All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations” (Eze 31:3-6). Thus a “tree,” whose wide-spreading branches afforded lodgment for birds, was a familiar Old Testament figure for a mighty kingdom which gave shelter to the nations. So it is in our parable. The “tree” symbolizes earthly greatness, worldly prominence, giving shelter to the nations.

The history of Christendom clearly confirms this. At the beginning, those who bore the name of Christ were but a despised handful. Judged by worldly standards, Christianity was unimportant and unworthy of serious consideration. Speaking generally, its adherents were not men of renown, culture, or worldly influence. There were few among the Lord’s “little flock” of outstanding genius or social prominence; for the most part, they were unlettered, obscure, and poor. For, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nought the things that are; that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1Co 1:27-29).

Nevertheless, though at first the cause of Christ on earth was so un-influential and insignificant, it was an object of intense hatred to Satan. Against Christianity he vented the full force of his fiendish malignity. Every weapon in his arsenal was employed in the effort to exterminate it. He stirred up men in authority and moved emperors to issue cruel edicts. Property was confiscated, Christians captured, imprisoned, fined, tortured, slain. Mercilessly and ceaselessly did the Devil seek to blot out the name of Christ from the earth. But the more it was persecuted, the more Christianity flourished. As one of the early “fathers” put it, “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.”

Finding that force was of no avail, the Enemy changed his tactics. Failing to intimidate as the roaring lion, he now sought to insinuate as the subtle serpent. Ceasing to attack from without, he now worked from within. In the first parable the assault was from without—the fowls of the air catching away the Seed. In the second parable his activities were from within—he sowed his tares among the wheat. In the third parable we are shown the effects of this. Satan now moved worldly men to seek membership in the churches of God. These soon caused the Truth to be watered down, discipline to be relaxed, that which repelled the world to be kept in the background, and what would appeal to the carnal mind to be made prominent. Instead of affections being set upon things above, they were fixed on things below. Soon Christianity ceased to be hated by the unregenerate: the gulf between the world and the “Church” was bridged.

Persecution ceased, and the professed cause of the despised and rejected Savior became popular. The distinctive truths of Christianity were abandoned, the Gospel was adulterated, the pilgrim character of professing saints ceased. More and more the wise and great of this world were attracted. By the fourth century the heads of the Roman Empire, instead of hating Christianity, perceived that it was a power for moral good in the governing of men, and so espoused it. In the days of Constantine the so-called Church and the State united, and became a vast political-religious system. Mind you, the courts of Caesar had not changed their character, nor become like the little “upper room” in Jerusalem, where the lowly church of Christ, small as a grain of mustard, first assembled. It was professing Christianity which had changed. The lowly upper room had long been forsaken, and the honors of kings’ courts coveted. And God granted their fleshly desire—just as long before He had given Saul to apostate Israel when they forsook the path of separation and wished to be like the surrounding nations.

Under these changed circumstances professing Christianity soon became great in the earth. Caves and caverns as places of worship gave place to costly church-houses and ornate cathedrals. The ritual was celebrated with a corresponding pomp. Its gorgeous vestments, its imposing ceremonies, its pompous priesthood, all lured the unregenerate; and multitudes applied for baptism. More and more the leaders sought after temporal power, and more and more were their longings gratified. In consequence, worldly-minded men were the ones who sought after and secured the highest offices. Hence we find the “birds,” the agents of Satan, lodging in the branches of the “tree;” they secured the positions of power and directed the activities of Christendom.

Thus we may discern in the first three parables of Matthew 13 a striking and sad forecast of the development of evil. In the first, the Devil caught away part of the good Seed. In the second, he is seen engaged in the work of imitation. Here, in the third, we are shown a corrupted Christianity affording him shelter.

N. B.—Several thoughts and expressions in this chapter have been borrowed from one by the late F. W. Grant.

The Parable of the Leaven

“Another parable spoke 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” (Mat 13:33).

In the mercy of God we are not left to any human opinions or authority, nor is the meaning of the parables of Matthew 13 open to argument. Christ Himself explained for us the first two and the seventh, and it is obvious that the intervening four must be interpreted in strict accord with them. There is an unmistakable unity underlying the whole chapter. As there is a noticeable connection between the first two parables in relation to the beginning of the kingdom of heaven in its present form, so there is a close relation between the third and fourth which treat of its extension and corruption. The third gives us the external aspect or outward growth of the kingdom, the fourth reveals its internal aspect and secret corruption.

The popular interpretation of this parable regards the “leaven” as representing the Gospel and its power, the “woman” the Church. Here are the words of Dr. John Gill: “Leaven is everywhere else used in a bad sense . . . here it seems to be taken in a good sense, and the Gospel to be compared unto it.” The “woman,” he tells us, is “the church” or the ministers of the Gospel. Calvinists understand the “three measures of meal” to represent God’s elect; Arminians understand them to prefigure all mankind. The latter expound the parable as follows: As the result of the Gospel, and by means of its assimilating power, the mass of humanity is ultimately to be penetrated, affected, and blest. So firmly is this belief embedded in the minds of church-goers that it is hard for them to tear loose from it.

It is apparent at once that our understanding and interpretation of this parable turns upon a correct definition of the “leaven.” If this is a figure of the Gospel, and if the meal represents the human race, then it necessarily follows that, ultimately, all must be regenerated or at least reformed by the Evangel. But if the “leaven” is the symbol of corrupting evil, and the meat stands for the pure truth of God, and that this parable also supplies a picture of the Christian profession, then it necessarily follows that, ultimately, the truth of God is to be corrupted throughout Christendom. How are we to find out which of these is true? Only from the Holy Scriptures. Let us now examine the current interpretation of this parable in the light of the Word:

1. If the popular view is correct then, in this chapter, Christ flatly contradicts Himself. What He has said in the first three parables is dead against world-conversion or even world-reformation by means of Gospel preaching. In the first parable, instead of our Lord teaching that the good Seed would bear fruit in every part of the field, He declared that most of its ground would prove uncongenial and unproductive. Nor was there any hint that later “sowers” would find conditions improved; rather did He intimate that things would get worse. In the second parable the picture which He drew of the coming Harvest expressly forbids such a thought, and positively excludes the idea of world-conversion in this Age. In the third parable He predicted that Christendom would develop into such a monstrosity that the Devil’s agents would be afforded shelter in it and would rule over it. How then can this fourth parable teach the very opposite?

2. The post-millennial interpretation of this parable is flatly contradicted by what we are told in verses 11, 35 of Matthew 13. There we learn that these parables are “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Dr. Gill echoes the teaching of the Reformers, and they have been re-echoed by later Calvinists, affirming that the “leaven” represents the Gospel. But that cannot be. Whatever may or may not be prefigured, the “Gospel” is the last thing which could possibly be in view. For this reason: the Gospel was not an unrevealed secret in O.T. times. Gal 3:8 declares that the Gospel was “preached unto Abraham.”

3. If the “leaven” represents the Gospel and the “meal” the human race, or, as Dr. Gill teaches, God’s elect in their natural condition, then the figure which Christ here employed is a faulty one. And this in three different respects. First, in the way it works. How does “leaven” act? Why, it is simply placed in meal, and then it works of itself! That is all: just place it there, leave it alone, and it is bound to leaven the whole lump. But is that the way the Gospel works? Certainly not. Multitudes have received the Gospel, but it has had no effect upon them!

Second, in the actor here mentioned. It is a “woman’’ who places the leaven in the meal. But the Lord Jesus Christ has not committed His Gospel into the hands of women. There were none among the twelve, nor among the seventy whom he chose and sent forth. The preaching of the Gospel is a man’s job. The part allotted to the sisters, and an important part it is, is to hold up the hands of their ministering brethren by prayer and supplication.

Third, in the effects it produces. When leaven is placed into meal it causes it to swell, it puffs it up! Is that what the Gospel does when it enters human hearts? No indeed. It produces the very opposite effect. It humbles, it abases.

4. The popular interpretation is contradicted by the plain facts of history and by present-day experience. Were the current explanations true, then we should be forced to acknowledge that this prediction of Christ’s has failed in its accomplishment. The Gospel has now been preached for nineteen centuries, yet not a single nation or state, no, nor even city. town or village, has been completely evangelized—let alone won to Christ! If the popular view is the correct one, then the Gospel is a colossal and tragic failure.

5. To make the “leaven” a figure of the Gospel and its power, of that which is good, is to contradict every other passage in Scripture where this figure is used. Christ was speaking to a Jewish audience, and with their knowledge of the O.T. Scriptures none of them would ever dream that He had reference to something that was good. With the Jews “leaven” was ever a figure of evil.

The first time that “leaven,” in its negative form, occurs in the Bible is in Gen 19:3, where we are told that Lot “did bake un-leavened bread” for the angels, and that “they did eat.” No doubt leavened bread was a common commodity in the wicked city of Sodom. Why then did not righteous Lot place some of it before the angels? Because he knew better. He must have known that they, like Peter, allowed “nothing common or unclean” to pass their lips. They would receive nothing with the least semblance of evil in it. Many congregations today are not nearly so careful about their food—their soul-food. They will readily swallow any rubbish that is handed them from the pulpit, and the sad thing is that they will do so without any protest. Why do they not go to the preacher and say, Why don’t you give us the Bread of life?

In Exodus 12 it will be found that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to rigidly purge their houses of all “leaven’’ at the Passover season. Why was this if “leaven” is a type of that which is good? Exo 34:25 tells us that God prohibited any “leaven from accompanying offerings of blood. Lev 2:11 informs us that “leaven” was also excluded from every offering of the Lord made by fire.

This parable in Matthew 13 is not the only occasion when the Lord Jesus employed this figure. How did He use it elsewhere? In Mat 16:11 we find Him saying to the disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” There, it is plainly a figure of that which is evil. So in Luk 12:1 He said, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.” Would He then deliberately confuse His disciples by using it as the figure of good in Matthew 13?

The Holy Spirit has also used this same figure through the apostle Paul. In what manner? In 1Co 5:6-7 we read, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump.” Would they be told to “purge out” that which was good? The last passage in the N.T. in which “leaven” is mentioned is Gal 5:7-9. Note there three things: first, it is called a persuasion—something which exerts a powerful and moving influence. Second, it hinders men “from obeying the truth.” Third, it is expressly said to be “not from Him which calleth you.” Thus, that which is a thing of fermentation—really, incipient putrefaction—is, throughout Scripture, uniformly a figure of corruption—-evil. It is remarkable that the word “leaven” occurs just thirteen times in the N.T., a number always associated with evil and the work of Satan.

Objectors have appealed to two passages in the O.T. where “leaven” is employed in a good sense. But when examined it will be found that they are only seeming exceptions. The first is in Lev 23:17. The two loaves presented unto the Lord at the Feast of Weeks were to be baked “with leaven.” But there is no difficulty here. The Feast of Weeks foreshadowed what is recorded in Acts 2, where the “first fruits” of this dispensation are seen. The two “loaves” prefigured saved Jews and Gentiles. Inasmuch as the old nature remains in those who are born again, the “leaven” was needed in the loaves which represented these believers. Whenever the typical bread represented Christ it must be unleavened, wherever it typified His people it must be leavened.

The second passage is in Amo 4:5, “Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven.” This was the language of irony, which means it has a meaning the very opposite of what is said. You will sometimes hear a parent say to a willful child, You do that and I will deal with you! Does he mean for the child to actually do it? No, the very reverse. So it is in Amo 4:5: the preceding verse proves it—”Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifice every morning.” Clearly it is the language of irony.

6. Let us now consider the “three measures of meal.” Post-millennarians say that they represent the human race among whom the Gospel is working. If so, the “meal” is a figure of that which is evil. The human race is fallen, sinful, depraved; “the whole world lies in the Wicked one” (1Jn 5:19). Nor is the usual explanation supplied by Calvinistic commentators any better. They say the “meal stands for God’s elect in their natural state. But the analogy of faith is against them. Let our appeal be to the Scriptures.

“And Abram hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth” (Gen 18:6). Did Abraham prepare for the Lord and His angels food out of that which symbolized evil? Note what is said in 1Ki 17:14-16. God does not feed His servants on that which speaks of evil! Now where does “meal” for bread come from? Any child can answer: not from evil tares, but from good wheat. It is the product of the good Seed. Then that which is good, wholesome, nutritious, pure, can never be a figure of fallen and corrupt humanity.

In Gen 18:6 the “three measures of meal” are a figure of Christs person, just as the “tender calf” in verse 7 which was killed and dressed prefigured His work. The meal is a type of Him who is the Corn of wheat (Joh 12:24) and the Bread of life. And thus in the language of N.T. symbolry the “meal” stands for the doctrine, of Christ.

7. The action of the “woman” in our parable exposes the error of the common interpretation. She “took,” not “received;” and hid the leaven in the meal. Is this the way in which the servants of God preach His Gospel? Is the evangel something to be whispered in secret? Does God bid His servants act stealthily? No. The Lord has said to them, “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetop” (Mat 11:27).

Writing to the Corinthians, and describing the character of his own ministry, the apostle Paul said, “We faint not, but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2Co 4:2). But in our parable, the woman is acting dishonestly and deceitfully: she stealthily introduced a foreign and corrupting element into the meal. Her object was to effect its deterioration. If the reader will turn to Lev 2:11 he will find that this “woman” was doing the very thing which the Word of God forbade her; and he will also observe that she left out the oil, which was the very thing the Scriptures enjoined!

Let us now turn, briefly, to the positive side, and give what we believe is the true interpretation. As already stated, the “three measures of meal” stand for Christ as the food of His people: Christ as presented in the written Word, therefore, the doctrine of Christ. The “woman” refers, primarily, to the Papacy, and generally, to all corrupters of God’s truth. Romanism has many “daughters.” It is most significant that the leading false cults in Christendom were originated by women. Modern Spiritualism was started in Boston, U.S.A., in 1848 by the Fox sisters. Seventh Day Adventism was founded by Mrs. White. Christian Science was organized by Mrs. Eddy. Theosophy was devised by Madame Blavatsky, and is now engineered by Mrs. Besant.

The “leaven” symbolizes the corrupting of God’s truth by the introduction of evil doctrine—compare Mat 16:12. The unadulterated truth of God is too heavy for the natural man: the sovereignty of God, the helplessness of man, the awfulness of sin, the totality of human depravity, the eternal punishment of the wicked, are indigestible to the carnal mind. Therefore, Rome and her “daughters” have introduced the lightening “leaven,” so as to make, what they hand out, more palatable to their dupes. And thus has history repeated itself. Of old God complained to Israel, “Ye offer polluted bread upon Mine altar” (Mal 1:7). So today priestcraft and clericalism have corrupted the bread of God.

It is to be noted that the “three measures of meal” were not removed, nor was something else substituted in their place. Instead, a foreign element was mingled with it, an element which has slowly and gradually corrupted it. In 2Th 2:4 the apostle Paul declared, “The mystery of iniquity does already work.” The leaven had started to act even then, and, as our Savior declared, it would work till “the whole was leavened.” How nearly this is the case today the majority of our readers are sadly aware. There are but few places to which an hungry child of God can now go and receive pure Bread. But thank God there are still a few such places. While the Holy Spirit remains on earth amongst the saints, God’s truth will be proclaimed. While He is here, there is a hindering cause, preventing the “whole” from being “leavened.” But at the Rapture the Hinderer will be “taken out of the way” (2Th 2:7), and then the “whole” will be completely leavened. The “salt” will be removed, and nothing will be left to stay universal corruption.

AW Pink (1886-1952): The Prophetic Parables (p3)

The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13 (p3)

with The Prophetic Scope of Matthew 24 (p4)
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13

The Parable of the Hid Treasure

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; that which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Mat 13:44).

The common interpretation of this parable, both by Calvinists and Arminians, is as far removed from what I am fully assured is its true meaning as is the explanation they give of the earlier ones in Matthew 13. Dr. John Gill tells us that the treasure in this parable is “the Gospel,” that the field in which the treasure is hidden is “the Scriptures,” and that the man who sought and found the treasure is “an elect and awakened sinner.” It is amazing how such an exegete of the Scriptures, and a man so deeply taught of God, could wander so far astray when he came to this parable. In the first place, the “field” is mentioned in two of the preceding parables—the field in which the good Seed was sown, and the field that was over-sown by tares; and in verse 38 of this very chapter Christ has told us the field is the world Then why should it be supposed that the field means something entirely different in this fifth parable of the same chapter? Again, we have already had a “man” before us in the first two parables—a man who sowed good Seed in his field (v. 24). The Lord Jesus Himself has told us who that man is: “He that sows the good seed is the Son of man” (Mat 13:37). If, then, the man in the second parable represents the Son of man, why, in this fifth parable, without any word to the contrary, are we to understand Him to point to someone entirely different?

Against the popular interpretation of the parable we advance these objections: First, if in this parable the Lord Jesus was setting forth the way of salvation, teaching that earnestness and diligence are needed on the part of an awakened sinner if he is to reach the treasure and make it his own (which treasure is hidden from the dilatory and careless), then how strange it is that it was not spoken in the hearing of the multitude! Instead, we are told that Christ had sent the multitude away, had entered the house and spoke this parable to His disciples only. Second, in this parable the treasure is hid in “the field,” and, as we have seen, the field is the “world.” In what possible sense is Christ or the Gospel hidden in the world? In the third place, when the man had found this treasure he hid it again: “the which when a man has found, he hides.” If the treasure represents the Gospel and the field be the world, and if the man who is seeking the treasure be an awakened sinner, then our parable teaches that God requires the awakened sinner, after he has found peace and obtained salvation, to go out and hide it in the world! How absurd! Christ plainly told His disciples to let their light, so shine that men might see their good works and glorify their Father which is in heaven. In the fourth place, in the parable we are told that after this man had found the treasure and then hid it again, that he went and “sold all that he had” and “bought it.” What does an awakened sinner have to sell, and what is it that he purchases? Surely not the world! Such a loose interpretation may suit and satisfy lazy people who are too dilatory to carefully examine the parable for themselves, but it certainly will not do for those who, by the grace of God, have become prayerful and diligent students of the Word. We need hardly say that any interpretation that contains such absurdities must be promptly dismissed.

Now the first key to this parable is found in the fact that it was spoken by Christ after He had dismissed the multitudes and had taken His disciples into the house. This parable, unlike the four which precede it, was spoken to the disciples only. Those disciples must have been perplexed and dismayed at the gloomy picture which Christ had drawn of the form which His kingdom was going to assume in this world after His departure. He told them, or at least He had said in their hearing, that they would go forth and scatter the good Seed broadcast, but, with meager results. The sowing which had been begun by Him was to be continued by them, and He had warned them that, though there should be a broadcast sowing throughout the field, only a fractional portion of the good Seed would take root and bear fruit. Second, He had said that the Devil would turn farmer and over-sow the field with tares. And they were forbidden to pluck them up: the tares and the wheat were to grow side by side until the harvest, and then the tares would be found in such quantities it would be necessary to bind them in “bundles!” Third, He had warned them that His professing cause on earth would develop so extensively and rapidly that it would be like a little mustard-seed growing up into a herb, ultimately becoming a tree, with wide spreading branches; but that the Devil and his agents would find shelter in them; Fourth, He announced that into the meal, which was the emblem of His pure truth, a foreign and corrupting element would be introduced, stealthily and secretly, and the outcome should be that ultimately the whole of the meal would be leavened.

Yes, there was every reason for the poor disciples to be perplexed and dismayed. Then the Lord Jesus (it was just like Him), took them apart, and in the parables of the treasure and pearl He spoke words to reassure their hearts. He made known to them that, though the outward professing cause of Christianity upon earth would develop so tragically, yet there will be no failure on the part of God. He tells them there are two bodies, two elect peoples, who are inexpressibly precious in His sight, and that through them He will manifest the inexhaustible riches of His grace and glory—and that, in the two realms of His dominion—on the earth and in heaven. Two distinct elect companies, one the “treasure” hid in the field, symbolizing the literal nation of Israel; the other, the one “pearl,” symbolizing the one body which has a heavenly calling, destiny, citizenship, and inheritance. The order of these next two parables is this: “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Therefore, the hidden treasure in the field, the symbol of Israel, is given before the pearl, which is the figure of the Church.

The second key which unlocks the parable before us, and the two which follow, is indicated in the way in which the Lord divided the whole series. There are seven parables in all, and He divided them into four and three: the four being spoken by the seaside in the hearing of the multitudes, the last three being spoken inside the house to the disciples only. Four is the number of the earth, the world. God has stamped “four” upon it. There are four points to the compass; four seasons to earth’s year, and so on. Four then, is the number of the earth or the world; hence in the first four parables of Matthew 13 Christ has described the kingdom of heaven as it appears in the world, as it is manifested here on earth. Three is the number of the Holy Trinity, and therefore in the last three parables the kingdom is looked at from Gods viewpoint. We have God’s thoughts upon it, we are shown what God has in the kingdom—a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price.

With this somewhat lengthy introduction, let us take up the parable in detail. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field.” If scripture is allowed to interpret scripture there will be no difficulty whatever in discovering what this “hid treasure” actually and definitely signifies. Go back to Exo 19:5, “Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice—it was the house of Jacob, the children of Israel that was addressed—and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is Mine”—corresponding with “the field” in which the “treasure” is found! Again “For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God and the Lord has chosen thee to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself” (Deu 14:2). The Hebrew in this verse is the same as in Exo 19:5. Again, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance (that means their earthly portion), when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deu 32:8): that is. here, on earth, for the context is speaking solely about earthly things—the apportioning of the earth to the nations. Once more: “For the Lord has chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure (Psa 135:4). These passages have no reference at all to the saints of this present dispensation, or to the church which is the body of Christ, but speak of the earthly Israel according to the flesh. They are God’s treasure on earth, His earthly elect people. Confirmation of this definition of the “treasure” in our parable, is found in the fact that never once in the twenty-one Epistles in the New Testament is the word “treasure” used of the Church! It is never applied to the saints of this present dispensation.

Now the first thing we are told in Mat 13:44 about this treasure is that it was hid in a field, and the field was “the world” (see v. 38). This is precisely the condition in which God’s earthly elect people were found at the beginning of His dealings with them. The parable starts with the treasure hid in the field, and the Old Testament begins with Israel hidden in the field! Who was the father of Israel according to the flesh? Abraham. Go back to the starting-point in Abraham’s life. Where was he when God’s hand was first laid upon him? Was he living in separation from the idolatrous people around him? No, he was hidden away among them—one of them! Take a later point in their early history. After Abraham came Isaac, and after Isaac Jacob, for Esau was not in the elect line. Look at Jacob, away from the promised land, an exile in Padan-aram, working for an unprincipled godless Gentile—for that is virtually what he was. Look at Jacob there among all the servants of Laban, hidden—nothing to indicate that he was one of the high favorites of God.

Proceed a little further. Abraham’s and Jacob’s descendants have become a numerous progeny, until they number some two million souls. Where are they to be found? Working in the brick-kilns of Egypt, a company of slaves. What was there to distinguish them? What was there to denote that they were God’s peculiar treasure? Nothing, indeed: the treasure was “hidden.” That is where the parable begins, and that is where their history as a nation began—buried, as it were, amid the rubbish of Egypt. That is why we read. “And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein; that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shall put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place His name there . . . And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father” (Deu 26:1, Deu 26:5). Yes, the treasure was hidden in the field at the beginning. From Isa 51:1-2, we learn how, at a later point in the history of Israel, God reminded them of their lowly origin, of the humble start that they had as a people: “Hearken to Me, you that follow after righteousness, you that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bear you.” One other passage on this point: “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness” (Deu 32:10). There is their lowly origin mentioned again: the treasure was “hid,” buried in the field.

Coming back to our text let us turn to the second detail in it: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found.” That is the next point, the finding of the treasure. That is so very simple it needs no interpretation. The “man” here is Christ Himself—as the “man” is Christ in verse 24, see verse 37; and in the parable that follows, verse 45. The “finding” of the “treasure” by Christ refers to the days of His earthly ministry. We are told in Joh 1:11, “He came unto His own;” that does not mean His own spiritually, for we read that “His own received Him not.” It was His own people according to the flesh. As He said to the Canaanitish woman in Mat 15:24, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Christ, the Man, came to Israel, the Jews. His ministry was confined unto them. The “treasure” was “found”—it was no longer hidden when Christ came here. The Jewish nation was not as it was in the days of Moses in Egypt. The sons of Jacob were in their own land. They had their own temple; the priesthood was still intact. And it was to them, this Man, Christ, came.

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides.” There is a distinct step in each clause. He “hides” it. That is the most solemn word in the chapter, with the one exception of the furnace of fire. Remember what was before us in the 12th of Matthew, which furnishes the key to the 13th. In Matthew 12 Christ presented Himself to the Jews and the Jews rejected Him, and because of their rejection He rejected them, pronounced sentence of doom upon them—the evil spirit coming back and taking with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” Then at the close of the chapter Christ intimated He would no longer acknowledge any bond or tie, any kinship except a spiritual one—”Whosoever shall do the will of My Father”: it was Christ severing the link which, according to the flesh, bound Him to Israel. So here in the parable: first we have the treasure hid in the field: that was Israel’s condition at the beginning of their national history in Old Testament times. Second, we have the Man coming to the treasure: that was the earthly ministry of Christ. Third, we have the treasure hid once more: that was Christ’s rejection of Israel. The “hiding” of the treasure referred to the last dispersion and scattering of the Jews throughout the whole earth. And, so effectually has He “hidden” the treasure that ten out of the twelve tribes are still lost! Yes, they are hidden, so securely hidden that no man to this day knows where they are!

One passage of Scripture in proof of what we have said above on Christ’s “hiding Israel: “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end” (Deu 32:28-29). How often is a sermon preached on this as though it applied to every man on earth, and his “latter end” is made to mean his deathbed! But the “latter end” here is of the nation of Israel, and it is the latter end of their history on this earth. Now read the next verse: “How shall one chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up!” Yes, they “sold” Him for thirty pieces of silver. But “whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap,” and God delivered them into the hands of the Gentiles! Their Rock “sold” them, and “the Lord shut them up.” That is parallel with the treasure “hidden” again. They are “shut up.” When a thing is shut up you cannot see it, it is hidden from sight.

Consider now the fourth point in our text: which is the most puzzling detail in the parable. Look at it closely: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” The purchase is made after the treasure had been “hidden,” and, as we have seen, the hiding of the treasure had respect to Christ’s judgment upon Israel and His dispersion of them throughout the earth. Turn now to Joh 11:51-52: “And this he spoke not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied.” What did he prophesy? “That Jesus should die for”—for whom?—”for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that He also should gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.” Now what could be plainer than that? We have two distinct objects there, two distinct companies—”that nation” and also the gathering together in one of “the children of God” that are scattered abroad. The gathering together in one of the children of God that are scattered abroad is what God is doing in this present dispensation, taking out of the Gentiles a people for His name, and gathering them together into one Body. That is what we have in the sixth parable—one pearl. But before that, we are told here in Joh 11:51, He also died for “that nation.” This is what you have in the fifth parable, the earthly people, hid in the field, the world, the earth. This is God’s earthly elect, “that nation.” In the sixth parable, the pearl, you have His heavenly elect people, the one body. But we are told in the parable that “for joy thereof He goes and sells all that He has and buys that field.” Turn to 2Pe 2:1, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” These false teachers are reprobates, yet this very verse says the Lord bought them. Many have created their own difficulty there in failing to distinguish between ransoming and redeeming. The Lord has “bought” the world, but He has not “redeemed” the world. There is a big difference between the two things. The first Adam was placed at the head of the world: God said “Have thou dominion over all”: and he lost it, he forfeited it; the Devil wrested it from his hands: and the last Adam, as man“the second Man front heaven”—needed to purchase that which Adam had lost; therefore He bought the field. He has bought the whole world, but He has not redeemed it. Particular redemption is for God’s elect only, but ransoming, purchasing, is much wider. He bought the field—”Denying the Lord that bought them”—-you cannot get away from it. Now, then, He bought the field also because of the treasure that was hidden in it. The treasure in the field is Israel. The man in the parable is Christ. He went and sold all that He had. He who was rich became poor, and bought the field. Now that is mentioned after the re-hiding of the treasure in the field for this reason: the Jews do not enter into the value and the benefits of Christ’s atonement until after this age is over. It is not until the Millennium that Israel will enjoy the benefits of that purchase of His. He bought the field because of the treasure that was in it, and that is why the purchasing of the field is mentioned after the re-hiding of the treasure in it.

To summarize. First, we have the treasure hid in the field: that takes us back to the beginning of Israel’s history as a nation. Second, we have the Man finding that treasure; that is Christ coming to this earth and confining His message to the Jews in Palestine. Third, we have the Man hiding the treasure; that is Christ’s judgment upon Israel because of their rejection of Him referring to their dispersion abroad throughout the earth. Fourth, we have the Man purchasing the treasure and the whole field in which it was found, referring to the death of Christ. Now, have you noticed there is a fifth point omitted?—the logical completion of the parable would be the Man actually possessing the treasure that He purchased. He hid it, then He purchased it. Logically, the parable needs this to complete it—the Man owning and possessing the treasure. Why is that left out? Because it lies outside the scope of Matthew 13. This chapter, dealing with the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” has to do with the history of Christendom. It describes the cause of Christ on this earth during the period of His absence, and therefore there is nothing in this parable about the restoration of Israel and the Lord possessing His earthly treasure, because that comes after this dispensation is over, after the history of Christendom has been wound up, after the new age has been inaugurated, namely, the Millennium! How perfect is Scripture in its omissions! For passages treating of Christ’s recovery and possession of the treasure see Amo 9:14-15; Act 15:17. In due time the Jews shall be manifested as God’s peculiar “treasure’’ on “earth”—see Isa 62:1-4.

The Parable of the Pearl

“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” (Mat 13:45-46).

First of all, let us deal briefly with the popular and current interpretation of this parable. When we say “popular” we mean, particularly, that which has been given out principally (though not exclusively) by Arminians. The general conception of its meaning is this! Christianity is likened unto one who earnestly desired and diligently sought salvation. Ultimately his efforts were rewarded by his finding Christ, the Pearl of great price. Having found Him, as presented in the Gospel, the sinner sold all that he had: that is to say, he forsook all that the flesh held dear, he abandoned his worldly companions, he surrendered his will, he dedicated his life to God; and in that way, secured his salvation. The awful thing is that this interpretation is the one which, substantially, is given out almost everywhere throughout Christendom today. That is what is taught in the great majority of the denominational Sunday School periodicals. During the last twenty years I have examined scores of Sunday School teachers’ aids in which an exposition of this parable has been found. The one which I have just given is an outline of that which has commonly been advanced.

Now, against that popular interpretation let us name three or four objections which are fatal to it. First, we are told this parable teaches that the sinner earnestly and diligently seeks salvation. But the truth is there has never been a single sinner on this earth who took the initiative in seeking salvation. The sinner ought to seek salvation, for he needs it badly enough. He ought to seek it, for God commands him so to do: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord.” “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found,” is His command; but fallen man, the sinner in his natural state, never does and never will seek the Lord or His salvation.

How was it with the first sinner? When Adam sinned, and in the cool of the evening of that first awful day, the voice of the Lord was heard rolling down the avenues of Eden; what did he do? Did he hasten to the Lord and cast himself at His feet and cry for mercy? No, he did not seek the Lord at all; he fled. The first sinner did not “seek” God—the Lord sought him: “Adam, where art thou?” And it has ever been thus. How was it with Abraham? There is nothing whatever in Scripture to indicate that Abraham sought God; there is not a little to the contrary. He himself was a heathen, his parents idolaters worshiping other gods—as the last chapter of Joshua tells us—and the Lord suddenly appeared to him in that heathen city. Abraham had not been seeking God; it was God who sought him. And thus it has been all through the piece. When the Savior came here He declared, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luk 19:10).

But perhaps there are some saying in themselves, “I cannot deny my own experience; I know quite well there was as a time when ‘I sought the Lord.’” We do not deny it; what we would call attention to is, there was something before that. What caused you to “seek” the Lord? Ah, the truth is, you sought Him because He first sought you—just as truly as you love Him because He first loved you. It is not the sheep that seeks the Shepherd; it is the Shepherd who seeks the sheep; and having sought the sheep, He creates in the heart of that sheep a desire after Himself, then it begins to seek Him.

Thus, to make this parable teach that the natural man, an unconverted sinner, is seeking Christ, “the Pearl of great price,” is to repudiate Scripture and to dishonor the grace of God. In Rom 3:11 are these words, and they are final: “There is none that seeks after God.” No, there is not one. There are multitudes that seek after pleasure, and seek after wealth, but there is none that seeks after “God.” He is the great Seeker. Oh that He may seek out some poor, needy souls now, and show them their need of Him, and create in their hearts a longing after Himself. O Spirit of God seek out Thine own.

In the second place, we are told in the popular interpretation of this parable that, having sought and found Christ, the Pearl of great price, the sinner sells all that he has and buys it, But that cannot be, because the sinner has nothing to sell! Righteousness he has none, for Isa 64:6 says that all our righteousnesses are as “filthy rags.” Goodness he has none, for Rom 3:12 tells us “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Faith he has none, for that is God’s “gift” (Eph 2:8). The sinner has nothing to sell. The popular view of this parable turns God’s truth upside down, for He declares that salvation is without money and without price (Isa 55:1).

In the third place, to say that the sinner sells all that he has and buys the one pearl of great price—buys Christ—is positively awful! What a travesty! What a blasphemy! If there is one thing taught more clearly than anything else in Holy Writ, it is that salvation cannot be purchased by man: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Tit 3:5). “The gift of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23). If it is a “gift” it is not to be sold or bartered.

Let us give now what we believe is the true interpretation of this parable. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman.” The “man” referred to is Christ, as He is all through this chapter. The “man” that sowed the good Seed in the field in the first parable is Christ. The “man” referred to in verse 24 at the beginning of the second parable is Christ, and the “man” in this parable, the “merchantman,” is the Lord Jesus. Now, notice five things concerning this “man.”

First, he desired this goodly pearl: “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls: who when he had found one pearl of great price went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” The parable begins by intimating that the Merchantman had set His heart upon this pearl. The pearl represents His church in its entirety, and that people, that church, the Lord Jesus desired. This is something which altogether passes our comprehension. What was there in us poor, fallen, depraved, sinful creatures to awaken His desire?

“What was there in us

That could merit esteem,

Or give the Creator delight?

‘Twas even thus, Father!

We ever must sing,

For so it seemed good in Thy sight.”

That is the only reason.

Now let us turn to two or three scriptures which bear out this thought—Christ’s desire for a people. “So shall the King greatly desire thy beauty” (Psa 45:11). O wonder of wonders, that He, the King, should greatly desire poor, sinful worms of the earth! In the light of that, recall those blessed words of His in John 14—how they lay bare the very heart of the Savior—”Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” How that speaks forth His love for His own people! How precious they must be in His sight! “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again”—beautiful as that place may be, perfect as that place is, it does not satisfy the longing of His heart until that place is occupied by those for whom it is prepared. “I will go and prepare a place for you, and if I go . . . I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” How that tells out the intense desire of the heart of Christ which will not be satisfied until He has His own blood-bought people around Himself! Compare Eph 5:25; Rev 3:20! The parable then begins by intimating the desire of Christ for this “pearl.”

The second thing is that He regarded this pearl as being of “great price.” That is what has staggered so many of the commentators. Even Mr. Spurgeon used to think that such language could never be true of poor sinners of the earth, that it could only be appropriate of the Christ of God. It is staggering—that not only should Christ desire you and me, but that we should be of “great price” in His sight! It only illustrates what we are told in Isaiah 55: “My thoughts are not your thoughts . . . as the heavens are higher than the earth . . . so are My thoughts than your thoughts.” Yes, they are. Would any redeemed sinner have formed such a conception in his own mind if God’s Word had never so told us—that we were of “great price” in His sight? No, I am sure none of us would; for God’s people are not of “great price” in their own sight, let alone the sight of the Lord Himself. O think of it, that we were of “great price” in His sight! There is an intimation of this in that wonderful 8th chapter of Proverbs, where we are taken back into the eternal counsels of God, and are permitted to witness something of the relationship that existed between the Father and the Son before earth’s foundations were laid: “Then I was by Him as One brought up with Him: And I was daily His delight.” And then in the 31st verse we read the words of Christ, spoken prophetically or in anticipation: “My delights were with the children of men.” “My delights“: O my brethren and sisters in Christ, not only were we present in His thoughts, not only did we stand before His mind in the eternity of the past, but His heart was fixed on us; His affections went out to us. We were His “delights” even then. “My delights are with the sons of men.” It may be asked, “Can you understand that?” And we say, No, dear friends, we cannot: our poor little minds are altogether inadequate for rising to such a level: we can only bow in wonderment and worship where we cannot understand.

In the third place, we are told that the Merchantman not only desired this pearl, and esteemed it of so great value, but He sold all that He had—words easily uttered, I am afraid sometimes glibly spoken. If our minds were incapable of rising to the level of the thought that has just been expressed, who amongst us is capable of gauging what it meant for the Lord of glory, the Creator of the universe, to sell all that He had? He who was rich for your sakes became poor—poorer than any of us have ever been; much poorer. So poor that He occupied a manger—that one day we might occupy a mansion. So poor that He had not where to lay His head—in order that you and I, who are amongst His favored ones, might rest our heads forever on His sacred bosom. “He who was rich for your sakes became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich.”

In the fourth place, this Merchantman sought the pearl. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking.” This points a contrast from what was before us in the preceding parable. In the fifth parable the treasure was “found”: in the case of the pearl it was “sought.” The distinction appropriately expresses the difference between God’s earthly election, the Jews; and God’s heavenly election, which are, for the most part, gathered out from the Gentiles (Act 15:14). Turn to Eph 2:17; “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” Were not all sinners “far off” from Him? Were there any sinners that were “nigh” to Him? In one sense, No. In another sense, Yes. Spiritually all of Adam’s race were “far off” from Him, yet dispensationally the Jews were “nigh,” and the Gentiles were “far off”; but they both needed the word of peace preached to them. He preached “peace to you which were far off (that is, the Gentiles) and to them that were nigh” (that is, the Jews). Hence, in the first of these two parables the treasure was “found”; it did not need “seeking!” It was already in the land when the Christ of God became incarnate: the Jews were already there in outward covenant relationship with God—with the Word of God in their hands, the temple of God in their midst, and so on. But in the next parable, where the Gentiles are in view, they not only had to be “found,” but they needed to be “sought!” They were “afar off” from God in every way. O the minute accuracy of Scripture!

Now notice in the next place, the Merchantman bought the “pearl.” There is no need to enlarge on that, except perhaps to quote 1Pe 1:18-19. ” . . .not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” It was at the Cross that He bought the pearl, and the price that He paid was His own precious blood.

Let us now consider the “pearl” itself, and admire the accuracy, beauty, and fullness of this figure that Christ selected for portraying His Church. First, notice its unity. “A Merchantman was seeking goodly pearls, and when he had found one pearl of great price.” Let us observe, however, that this Merchantman had several pearls. He was seeking goodly pearls, and, of course, if He sought them He found each one. Yes, Christ has several pearls. There are quite a number of distinct companies among His redeemed. The Old Testament saints is one, and so on. But attention is here focused on “one pearl” in particular: the unity of God’s saints of this present dispensation is what is referred to. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for we are all one (Gal 3:28). Now, it is a significant fact that a pearl is the only gem whose unity cannot be broken without destroying it. I may take a diamond and cut it into two, then I have two diamonds. I may take a lump of gold and divide it into two, and I have two lumps of gold. But if I take a pearl and cut it into two, I have nothing: I have destroyed it! A pearl significantly stands for the unity of the saints of this present dispensation.

In the second place, a pearl is the product of a living creature, and it is the only gem that is. Not only so, but it is the result of suffering. Away down in the ocean’s depths there lives a little animal encased in a shell; we call it an oyster. One day a foreign substance, a grain of sand, intrudes, and pierces its side. Now, God has endowed that animal with the faculty of self-preservation, like He has all others of His creatures, and it throws out, exudes, a slimy substance called nacre and covers the wound, repeating the process again and again. One layer after another of that nacre or mother-of-pearl is cast out by that little animal on the wound in its side, until ultimately there is built up what eventuates in a pearl. So that a pearl is the product of suffering. How wonderful the figure! How accurate the emblem! The Church, the saints of this dispensation, are the fruitage of the travail of Christ’s soul. The pearl, we may say, is the answer to the injury that was inflicted upon the animal. In other words, it is the offending particle that ultimately becomes the object of beauty: that which injured the oyster becomes the precious gem. The very thing that injured the animal, the little grain of sand that intruded, is ultimately clothed with a beauty that is not its own and covered with the comeliness of the one that it injured. How manifestly is the Author of the Bible and the Savior of our souls the Regulator of everything in nature. Yes, He saw to it, when He created the oyster, that it should furnish an appropriate type and figure of His Church.

In the third place, the pearl is an object that is formed slowly and gradually. It does not come into existence in a single day. There is a tedious process of waiting while the pearl is being slowly but surely formed. And so it has been with the Church. For nineteen centuries now that, of which the pearl is the figure and type, has been in process of formation by the power and grace of God. Just as the oyster covered the wound in its side and that which pierced it with one layer after another of the beautiful nacre, constantly repeating the process, so out of each generation of men on earth God has called a few and added them to that Church which He is now building for His Son.

In the fourth place, notice the lowly origin of that which is a type of the Church. That beautiful pearl originally had its home in the depths of the sea, amid its mire and filth, for that is where oysters congregate. They are the scavengers of the ocean. Down in the ocean’s depths, amidst the mire, is that precious gem being formed. What a lowly origin! Yes, and that is to remind us, and to humble us with the remembrance of it, that we, who have by sovereign grace been made members of Christ, had by nature our origin in the filth and mire and ruin of the fall. Compare Eph 2:11-12.

In the fifth place, the pearl, as it is being formed down there in the ocean’s depths, is not seen by the eye of man. It is a secret formation; none but God witnesses its building up. In like manner, that Church which Christ is now building, that body of His which is now in process of formation, is unknown and unseen by the world. I am not speaking of the visible churches, I am talking about that Church, which is now being built (see Eph 2:21; Eph 4:16, etc.), and which as it is being formed, like the oyster, is unseen by the eye of man. Your life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Significant, too, is the fact that just as the pearl is found not in the mines of earth, but in the sea, so the Church of this dispensation is composed mainly of Gentiles—the “waters” figuring such, see Rev 17:15.

In the sixth place, we learn from this figure that in the eyes of God that Church is an object of value and beauty. That little object, hidden from the eyes of men, is being fashioned into a precious gem, which shall yet reflect the light of heaven and become an object of beauty and admiration in the eyes of all who see it. Turn to 2Th 1:10, “When He shall come to be glorified in His saints (not only in Himself), and to be admired in all them that believe.” That is speaking in the language of the pearl. First, the Lord Jesus will “present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but it shall be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27); second, when He returns to the earth itself, He will bring with him His complete and beautified Church and it will be an object of admiration to all who behold it. To a wondering universe Christ will yet display His glorified Church.

In the seventh place, see how in the figure Christ here selected, we have an intimation of the honorable and exalted future that the Church is yet to enjoy. That little object in the ocean’s depths, unseen by the eye of men, which is being gradually built up, ultimately has a position and a place in the diadem of the king. That is the destiny of the pearl of great price: it becomes the jewel of royalty; for this it has been made. And so we are told, “When Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:4). And again, “That in the ages to come (that is yet future) He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us” (Eph 2:7). Ah, my friends, many of God’s people today may be poor and despised and hated by the prominent and great of this world, but just as surely as the pearl of great price of lowly origin ultimates in a position of dignity and honor and glory, so those who now are last shall be first.

In closing, let me sum up in two words of practical application. First, to the unconverted. O my unsaved friend, let this parable show you once and for all the utter impossibility and the needlessness of attempting to purchase your salvation, of seeking to win God’s approval by some works and doings of your own. The pearl in this parable is not a Savior whom the sinner has to “buy.” By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God . . . not of works lest any man should boast.”

And what is the word to those of us who by the grace of God have been saved? This: the pearl has been purchased by Christ: we are the purchased property of another! You are not your own, but “bought with a price” (1Co 6:20). To what extent is that Divine truth regulating our lives? How far is that fact dominating our daily walk? We are not our own; we belong to Christ! Do we realize that? Are we living day by day as though we realized it? Does our walk manifest it? Not our own—the property of another! Then should we not say, “For me to live is Christ?” Can any of us truthfully say it? “For me to live is Christ?” Is it true that I have only one aim, only one desire, only one ambition; all my efforts concentrated on the honoring, obeying, magnifying of Christ? O my friends, the poor preacher cannot honestly say it. By the grace of God he may say that is his desire. But O how far short he comes of attaining to it in his daily life. May God help all His people to realize in their souls that they are not their own: no longer free, no longer have the right to plan their own life, to say what they will do or what they will not do: no longer any whatever—the purchased property of Another. Our answer to that ought to be, “For to me to live is Christ.” O may Divine, enabling grace be granted to us so to live!

The Parable of the Dragnet

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind” (Mat 13:47-50)

We have previously pointed out that it is of first importance to carefully note the manner and method in which these seven parables are arranged, for their order supplies a key to their interpretation. The first one stands by itself, being distinguished from the other six which follow by the omission of the opening clause “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” The first parable is not a similitude of the kingdom of heaven; the last six are. The first parable treats of a preparatory work, done prior to the introduction of the kingdom of heaven in its present form; that introductory work being the broadcast sowing of the seed. first by the Lord Himself, afterwards by the apostles.

The six parables which follow are plainly divided into two threes. The first three were spoken by the Lord from the ship in the hearing of the multitude by the seaside, and therefore they give us the more public aspect of the kingdom of heaven in its present form—the kingdom of heaven in this world as it is seen by men. The last three parables were not spoken to the multitude nor were they uttered by the seashore, but were spoken by the Lord to the disciples only, and that within the house; intimating that they treat of the internal and hidden aspects of the kingdom of heaven, that which is not manifested before men in this world. So that the last three parables speak from the standpoint of Gods counsels.

The first of the last three is the parable of the treasure hid in the field, a man for joy thereof buying the field—principally for the sake of the treasure that was hidden therein. The next parable, that of the pearl, also sought, desired, and purchased by the same man, the merchantman. Those two objects, the treasure and the pearl, intimate that there are two elect companies, dear unto God and precious unto His Son, purchased by Him: one an earthly people, the other a heavenly; through whom the wondrous riches of Divine grace and glory will yet be made manifest in the two great divisions of God’s dominions—heaven and earth. The earthly people, spoken of under the figure of the treasure. being Israel, the literal Israel; the heavenly people, spoken of under the figure of the pearl, looking forward to the time when the body of Christ will be completed and He shall present to Himself a glorious Church. The order of these two parables, then, is, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”—the treasure coming before the pearl.

But if these seven parables give us a prophetical outline of the course of Christendom, that is the history of the Christian profession throughout this dispensation, during the time of Christ’s absence from the earth, one more parable is needed to complete the picture. The last parable is in one sense an amplification of the sixth. In the sixth parable there is only one man at work, one agent acting—the Merchant-man. He is the one who does all in connection with the pearl. But while it is true the Merchant-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. is the principal worker in connection with the gathering out of the saints during this dispensation, in His condescending grace He does not work alone. He has been pleased to call His own saints to have a part with Him in the prosecution of this work, in the accomplishing of God’s counsels, in the gathering out of His elect people. Consequently. when we come to this seventh parable, for the first time, the number of the pronoun is changed. Notice this in verse 47: “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”—not “he” but “they.” That is the first time we have “they” in the parables. Illustrations of what is thereby denoted are found in the Gospels in connection with Christ’s miracles.

Take the first one that He performed—the turning of water into wine. This is a sermon in action. His mother came to Him and said, “They have no wine.” Their own wine had given out. Now “wine” in Scripture is the symbol of joy—not exclusively, but that is one of its essential significations. “They have no wine.” Christ alone can impart real joy to the heart; but in the working of the miracle He used servants. He said to the servants, “Fill the waterpots.” He said to the servants, “Draw it forth.” He said to the servants, Convey it to “the master of the feast.” He deigned to use them, and in their obedience they became workers together with Him in the performing of that miracle.

Take again the feeding of the multitude. There was the famishing crowd: they had no food. Here was the Lord Jesus Christ. A few loaves and fishes were placed in His hands, and under His miraculous working-power those loaves and fishes were made to feed the hungry multitude. But what was the method that He followed? He did not hand the food directly to the crowd; He first gave to the disciples, and they distributed to the multitude. So that (we say it reverently) between the Lord Jesus Christ and the multitudes, and the wine and food, there is need of consecrated servants, to first receive from Him and then to hand out to others. Therefore we may see that if these seven parables furnish an outline of the history of this present dispensation, it is necessary to complete the picture by showing us that the Lord Jesus, in His condescending grace, uses others to the accomplishing of God’s purpose and the executing of His counsels.

Now the details of this parable are so few in number and so simple that it seems they hardly call for explanation. First of all, there is the “net.” Second, there is the “sea” into which the net is cast. Third, there are the “fishermen” themselves—they gather in. And fourth, there are the “fish” that are enclosed in the net. It should be plain to all that the “net” itself is a symbol of the Gospel, the proclaiming and presenting Christ to the responsibility of men. Second, the “sea” into which the net is cast has the same meaning that it has in the first verse of the chapter: it stands for the nations as such, the Gentiles, and that is why the “sea” is here once more mentioned—because that which is specially characteristic of the present dispensation, in contradistinction from the dispensation that preceded it and the one which shall yet follow, is God’s mercy turning unto the Gentiles: therefore we have the figure of the “sea” once more. The “fishermen,” those who cast the net into the sea, are the Lord’s gospellers, the evangelists, the preachers of the Word. That is clear by comparing Scripture with Scripture: in Mat 4:19 and in Luke 5 the Lord Jesus said to His first disciples, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men,” it is His own figure for His evangelists.

Now very briefly let us call attention to seven things connected with the parable. The first thing that has impressed us in studying it is this: the inconspicuousness of the fishermen. Observe that in the 47th verse they are not even mentioned: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind,” while in the 48th verse Christ just refers to them as “they”: “Which when it was full, they drew to shore.” That is all that is said about them. How inconspicuous they are! In other words, those who have been so highly honored by God, and (it is an infinitely higher honor to be a servant of Christ than to be King of the British Empire) to have a part in the casting of this net into the sea, are here hidden from view, nothing is said about them, except they are just referred to once as “they.” O how that rebukes and condemns the preacher-worship of the day! Turn for a moment to 1 Corinthians 3: beginning at verse 4 (1Co 3:4) :—”For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything neither he that waters.” Do we realize that, my brethren? Do you realize that the one whom God has called to minister to you, is himself nothing—nothing at all, merely an empty vessel, that, unless the Lord comes, will soon crumble away to dust! But He, the One who deigns to bless, who places His treasure in earthen vessels, He is everything. O my brethren and sisters, it has impressed me deeply in studying this parable that the fishermen are hidden from sight. They are inconspicuous, they are mere nothings that God can dispense with as easily as He can use them. Do not imagine that the prosperity of any church depends upon the presence of some particular man in the pulpit. The Lord is not only able to continue and prosper His work, but to do so a hundredfold more without the most gifted preacher if He so pleases. The instrument is nothing. How that rebukes the preacher-worship of the day! May Almighty God deliver His people from it. May God in His grace (for He is a jealous God, who will not share His glory with another), preserve His people from giving any of the honor and glory to the mere instrument, the whole of which is due and belongs alone to Him. Just as surely as you begin to honor and glorify the instrument, the blessing of God will depart. Heed well this first point in our parable: the fishermen were hidden from sight. May they be hidden from sight in all the churches of God.

Secondly, the object before the fishermen in casting the net into the sea and drawing it forth again. This was simply to gather good fish. That was their one aim and design, the 48th verse shows that—”which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good fish into vessels.” It is true there were also some bad fish in the net, but these they cast away. It is the good fish they were out for. Now, while it is true the servant of God is under marching orders to “preach the gospel to every creature,” nevertheless, that which he must ever keep steadily before him, those whom he must perseveringly seek out, and those he is called to minister unto, are Gods elect. Though the servant of God is sent forth to preach the Gospel to all who come under the sound of his voice, yet he is not sent to draw a bow at a venture. God has not sent him forth so that the success of his labors is made dependent upon the caprice of man or the response of his will. No, the primary purpose of God in raising up His servants and sending them forth is, the good of His own elect. And that end is to be kept in view by those whom God calls upon to engage in His service, whether that work be in the mission-field or in the Sunday School class or in district visitation. God has called you to seek out those whom He has marked out from all eternity—the “good fish”.

There are two Scriptures I want to refer to from the Epistles of Paul which bring both of these aspects before us. First, 1Co 9:22, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” In a general way that means this: Paul was carrying out his Divinely given commission and preaching the Gospel to every creature—the net was cast into the sea at large. Paul was made all things to all men. He welcomed an opportunity to preach the Gospel to the poor; but he did not miss an opportunity to preach God’s Word to the prominent and eminent as well. He was primarily, “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13), yet how often he preached to the Jews! He was made all things to all men. That is one side: that is the casting of the net “into-the-sea” aspect.

Now turn to 2Ti 2:10, which is a verse many Arminians do not seem to know is in the Bible at all; those who have been brought up under “Freewill” teaching need to look at it closely. These were the words of the apostle Paul in connection with his own ministry: “Therefore I endure all things for the elects sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.” That was the object before the apostle’s heart, that was the goal that he had in view. That was the aim of his ministry, that was what enabled him to endure such a great fight of afflictions. He endured all things “for the elect’s sake.” How that gives the aspect of the Gospel work portrayed in our parable! There is first the broadcasting of the net into the sea at large, and there is secondly the particular design in so doing. The purpose of it is to gather out the “good fish.” So while you and I are called upon to preach the Gospel to every creature, let us not lose sight of the fact that God’s purpose and our submission to it is the seeking out of the good fish, praying that God will use us to find His hidden ones. For, observe that, at first, God’s elect are hidden from His servants, like the “good fish” in the sea; but as we labor in the Gospel they become manifest—they are seen in the “net!”

In the third place, we are told that the net gathered in of every kind. Coming back to Mat 13:47, the last part of the verse: “that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.” Others besides “good fish” were enclosed. This reminds us once more that the main thing which is in view in our chapter is the Christian profession. Here we are shown the effects of Gospel preaching. Here we behold the results of the net being cast into the sea at large—the world-wide proclamation of the Gospel and the universal presentation of Christ unto men. The result is that there is a mixed profession. The net gathers in “of every kind.” Just as at the beginning of the age there were the wheat and tares, so at the end of the age (to which this parable conducts us) there are bad fish as well as good.

Now in the fourth place, the fact that this net gathered in bad fishes as well as good ones was no reflection upon the skill of the fishermen. But on the other hand, they were responsible to distinguish between the good and the bad fish after they had entered the net, and they were responsible to separate the one from the other. That is an essential and important part of the work and duty of God’s servants—to discriminate, to distinguish between the good and the bad fish. Mark it carefully: “which when it was full, (that is, the net) they drew to shore, and (what?) sat down” (v. 8). They sat down before they did anything with the fish. Before they attempted to do any sorting out and separating, they sat down: which indicates that this aspect of their work requires time, care, deliberation!

Now notice also in verse 48: “They gathered the good fish into vessels, but cast the bad away.” That is all that the fishermen did with the bad; just cast them away. They had got into the net, but they were rejected. They would have nothing further to do with them. Nothing else is required of the fishermen, but just to cast them away. Such was Christ’s word in Mat 15:13, where the disciples came to Him and were speaking about the Pharisees, He said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone.” It is not our business to do the rooting up; just leave them alone, that is all; have no fellowship with them. Turn to Rom 16:17, “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned”— imprison them, torture them, burn them? No, God has never told His people, or His professing people, to do any such thing. Even if Rome were right in her doctrines, Scripture absolutely condemns her practices. How has she acted towards those who have differed from her doctrine? Here is what Scripture says, “Brethren mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them.” That is all! Give them a wide berth; separate yourselves from them; have nothing to do with them, avoid them. Do you avoid them? If some man comes to the City with a great reputation, and the newspapers announce that he is teaching this, that, and the other and huge crowds are being drawn, and a lot of people tell you he is such a nice man, yet you know he is teaching contrary to the doctrine that you have received; what do you do? Do you “avoid” him? I am afraid some of you don’t. Many need this word. “Avoid them!” See also 2 John 10!

In the fifth place. These fishermen were to distinguish and discriminate between the good and the bad fish. Though they are not to be blamed for the entrance of the “bad” fish into the “net”—being under the waters they could not see what sort of fish entered; yet they have a responsibility concerning them once the net is drawn to land: then they are exposed to sight. It is not long before a professing Christian makes it manifest whether or not he has been really born again. It is concerning this God holds His servants responsible.

Perhaps some will ask, How are they able to do it? In what way are God’s servants to distinguish the good fish from the bad? Has God left them to their own discretion in the matter? No, my friends. We need not lean unto our own understanding in anything. The Scriptures have been given that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works, and in them God Himself has described the very marks by which we can distinguish good fish from bad!

Turn for a moment to Lev 11:9, “These shall you eat of all that are in the waters, whatsoever has fins, and scales, in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall you eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you.” Do you suppose that these verses contain nothing more than instructions to the Hebrews about their diet 3,000 years ago? Do you imagine that God has recorded in His eternal Word something with no other significance and importance than the mere regulating of the table of the Israelites in the past? I trust that by this time most of you have learned that there is a spiritual significance and value to everything in Scripture. There is not time now to expound this, but concerning the good fish there were two things, fins and scales—fins to propel them through the waters and aid their motion; scales to protect, to shield them from the pressure and action of the waters as they passed swiftly through them. Can you interpret it? God has given His people two things: armor to protect them, and also an inward power to propel them through the waters of this world. Those who give evidence of having on them the armor of light (Rom 13:12; Eph 6:13-17), corresponding to the “scales;” and those who make it manifest they are swimming against (instead of floating down with) the tide of this world, furnish proof that they are “good fish.”

In the sixth place, it should be carefully noted that the work of the fishermen did not cease when they drew the net to land. Something else yet remained for them to do. Look again at the parable: “Which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good fish into”—a vessel? It does not say so; but “they gathered the good fish into vessels.” Why? The work of the fishermen was not completed when they gathered the fish into the net, nor was it finished when they had separated the good from the bad: the good ones must be gathered into “vessels.” Surely that does not need interpreting. The “good” fish represent believers; their being “gathered” speaks of association together—fellowship; while the “vessels” tell of separation from the world.

I have only time now to mention the last point without elaborating—If this parable is studied closely it will be found that verses 49 and 59 present two difficulties—those who have not studied it, will not have felt their force: “So shall it be at the end of the world (or of the age): the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.” In the parable itself the work is done by the fishermen: but in the interpretation of the parable the work is done by “angels.” Again, in the parable itself the good fish are separated from the bad, but when you come to the interpretation, the order is reversed: “they shall sever the wicked from among the just.” So that in the interpretation the bad are separated from the good—the very opposite of the order in verse 48. For the present we leave these two points with you.

AW Pink (1886-1952): The Prophetic Parables (p4)

The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13 (p4)

with The Prophetic Scope of Matthew 24 (p4)
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13


We have endeavored to show in our exposition of Matthew 13 that the prophetic parables found therein contain an outline sketch of the history of Christendom, i.e., the circle of profession, that sphere where the authority of Christ is nominally owned. That which is in view, particularly in the first four parables, is the circle of human responsibility, and therefore it is a picture of failure which is presented to us. Look where you will, it is always the same; whenever God has committed anything to man as a responsible creature, he has failed in his trust.

God placed Adam in Eden on the ground of human responsibility—that is, on probation; and he fell. God gave to Noah the sword of magisterial authority, but he failed to govern himself. God committed to Israel the law, and they broke it: before Moses came down from the mount they had set up the calf and were worshipping it. God instituted priesthood in Israel, in the tribe of Levi, and Aaron and his sons were duly consecrated to their office; yet on the very next day two of Aaron’s sons offered strange fire, and judgment fell upon them. God instituted kingship in Israel, and that also was a sorry failure, as the books of Kings and Chronicles bear witness. God endowed Nebuchadnezzar with great power and it turned his head: he became so bloated with his own self-importance that he made an image to himself and demanded that all should worship it.

And the Christian profession has been no exception. Paul announced that after his departure “grievous wolves should enter the flock,” and they did. The evil introduction by Satan at the beginning of this dispensation has never been eradicated, nor will it be till harvest-time. Instead of things getting better, Scripture explicitly declares they will become “worse and worse”; until Christ will “spew out” the whole system that bears His name.

The seven parables of Matthew 13 divide into four and three, the usual division of a septenary series. The first four were spoken to the multitude on the seashore; the last three to the disciples within the house. Hence, the first four give us the external view of the history of Christendom; the last three treating of that which is internal or spiritual. The first four are arranged in two pairs, the first two giving us the individual aspect of things, the wheat and tares. The second pair set forth that which is collective and corporate, the mustard-tree and the leaven.

Again: the first parable shows us a “sowing”; the fifth and sixth reveal the resultant crop. In like manner, the second parable also shows us a “sowing,” while the third and fourth describe the harvest which springs from it. Should it be asked, Why is the crop from the second sowing mentioned before that of the first? The answer is, this is in keeping with God’s invariable method: “Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual” (1Co 15:46). Cain was born before Abel, Ishmael before Isaac, Esau before Jacob. The nation of Egypt existed before Israel; Saul came to the throne before David, and so on.

Let us now briefly review the details of these parables. The first represents our Lord still here upon earth, in Servant-form, scattering broadcast the Seed of the kingdom. It intimates the ratio of the Gospel’s success, and forewarns us that only a fractional portion thereof produces abiding results. It makes known, from the human side, the various hindrances which render most of the Seed unfertile. Thus, this parable plainly repudiates the popular delusion which supposes that this age will yet witness a universal reception of the Gospel; it positively forbids any expectation of a millennium brought about by human enterprise or the labors of Christ’s servants. It declares that as the result of the opposition of the devil, the flesh and the world, most of the Seed is either caught away or choked, and general barrenness is the result. Nor is there any hint at the close of the parable that such opposition would cease or that the yield would increase; instead, the Lord affirmed that it would decrease from an hundred-fold down to thirty-fold. The history of the last nineteen centuries has fully corroborated the teaching of this parable and made manifest the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction. Only a fractional proportion of people in any land, state, city, or village really receive the Gospel! Not only is this true in general throughout the world, but it applies with equal force to the religious sphere. Where is the church to-day which can carry on its work if the faithful minority were removed?

The second parable carries us forward to a point after Christ’s ascension, and shows us dual forces at work in Christendom. These “dual forces” are named in verses 24, 25. They are Christ (through His servants) sowing His “good Seed” and the Devil sowing his “tares.” Through the unwatchfulness of the Lord’s servants, while “men slept,” the Enemy got in his work, and as the result the crop in the field, as a whole, is spoiled, and is to continue thus to the end of the age.

Some have experienced a difficulty in verse 27. In view of the fact that the “tares” so closely resemble the wheat that the one cannot be distinguished from the other till harvest-time, how was it that their presence was detected at such an early date? The difficulty is more imaginary than real. Note the difference between what is said in verse 25 and verse 27: in the former it was “men” that slept: in the latter, it was the “servants’’ who discovered the presence of the tares. These “servants” obviously refer to the apostles, who were endowed with the Holy Spirit to an extent that none others have been, and therefore possessed a discernment which none others have had since then.

But though the “tares” were detected, orders were given that they must not be removed; they were to “grow together” with the wheat until the harvest. It is a great pity that many with more zeal than knowledge have ignored this command of Christ’s. This word of His at once exposes the uselessness, worthlessness, and unscripturalness of “reform” movements and efforts. Men have indulged the idle dream that they could improve the world by ridding it of noxious weeds: in other words, by the banishment of drunkenness and immorality, and the purifying of politics-as well might they attempt to purify the waters of the Dead Sea! Christ said, “Let both grow”; do not waste time in seeking to get rid of the “tares.” “Preach the Gospel to every creature” is our marching-order, and due attention to it will leave no time for seeking to root up weeds! Finally, it is blessed to note that the Enemy can neither injure the wheat nor prevent the garnering of it. The sowing of his tares was by God’s permission.

The third parable carries us beyond the days of the apostles and anticipated the time when the outward character of professing Christianity underwent a radical change. That which had hitherto been despised, had become popular; that which was so insignificant in the world, assumed huge proportions. But instead of this being a great blessing, it was a fearful curse. So far from its being a triumph for the Gospel, it evidenced a victory of Satan. The little mustard-seed developed into a monstrosity, and produced that which gave shelter for the agents of the Devil. Instead of living as strangers and pilgrims here, professing Christians took part in politics and sought to reform the State. Instead of having as their hope the returning Christ, they sought to improve the world, and to such an extent did they imagine they had succeeded, it was announced that the millennium had commenced.

The parable of the leaven presents to us something still more tragic. Just as the mustard-tree depicted the outward corruption of the Christian profession, this fourth parable shows us the inward corruption of it. Into the “meal,” which represents the pure doctrine of Christ, a foreign element was stealthily introduced. This was designed to make the food of God’s people lighter and more palatable to the world; but it corrupted the same. The Lord announced that this evil process would continue until the whole was leavened. This cannot be completely realized while the Holy Spirit remains on earth; but how nearly this prophecy has become history shows us how very close at hand must be the time when He will take His departure.

But though these four parables give us a sad picture of the unfaithfulness of men, there has been no failure with God. That cannot be. In spite of all the breakdown in human responsibility, and notwithstanding Satan’s opposition, God has been slowly but surely working out His “eternal purpose.” “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world,” says Act 15:18, and clear and abundant proof of this is furnished here in Matthew 13.

The fifth and the sixth parables bring before us the gracious and blessed work of Christ, securing for Himself two Objects which are inexpressibly precious to Him, namely, the “treasure” hid in the field and the “pearl” from the sea; which represent redeemed Israel and the Church of the present dispensation. This gives us the brighter side of things, and shows that, notwithstanding Satan’s Divinely-permitted success, Christ shall yet “see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied” (Isa 53:11).

In connection with the next parable there remain two points to be considered: first, Christ’s interpretation of it, which is found in verses 49, 50. The careful reader will observe that this contains a principle similar to that found in connection with the interpretation of the second parable which is given in verses 41-43. In the parable (itself) of the tares Christ went no farther than what actually takes place here on earth, see verse 30; the state in the next world of those represented by the tares is not revealed. But in the interpretation of this parable, which Christ gave to His disciples, their future destiny was made known, see verses 39-43. Thus the interpretation carries us farther than do the details of the parable itself. This principle is also exemplified in a number of symbolic prophecies: Daniel 7 supplies a notable illustration—the explanations there given going beyond the symbols used.

It is thus in the seventh parable. In verses 47, 48 the final destiny of neither the good nor the bad fish is given. Neither in the parable of the Tares nor of the Net does the execution of judgment form part of the parable itself. The reason of this is not far to seek. These parables all treat of the present dispensation. while the churches are on earth: God’s judgment will descend after they have gone. Hence. in the parable itself the “tares” are left in the field (v. 30); and in the last parable the “bad fish” are left on the shore. that is. on earth (v. 48). This is clear from the fact that the “vessels” into which the “good fish are gathered” are on earth. The execution of judgment upon the “tares” and on the “bad fish” occurs at a later date, and this was indicated by Christ Himself, in His giving the interpretation separately and after the parable itself.

In further confirmation of what has just been said. it is to be noted that, the fishermen have nothing to do with the work of judgment. As Christ declared “at the end of the age (which will be more than seven years after the Rapture) the angels shall come forth.” etc. (v. 49). Thus it is the “angels” who execute God’s judgment—compare carefully Rev 7:1, Rev 8:1, Rev 16:1, etc.

One other point connected with the last parable must be noted. In verse 49 we are told that “the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.” This is the very opposite of what the fishermen do in verse 48: they, first, gather the good fish into vessels, and then cast the bad away. In both the parable of the Tares and of the Net the “angels” are occupied with the wicked. The “just” in verse 49 refer to the godly Jewish remnant who will be on earth, after the Church has been removed just before at the end of this age.

The very fact that Matthew 13 contains seven parables intimates that we have here a complete something, and that is, the history of the Christian profession on earth. In the prophetic outline presented by Christ, the salient points and principal epochs in this history are noticed. In the first, which is introductory, the earthly ministry of Christ is in view. The second, describes what took place in the days of the apostles. The third, brings us down to the fourth century, when the little mustard-seed became a great “tree,” which pointed to the union between the State and professing Christianity in the days of Constantine. The fourth takes us to the end of the sixth century, and forecast the rise of the Papacy, the woman corrupting the meal.

After the fourth parable there is a manifest break: the Lord leaving the seaside and retiring within the house: thus He was hidden from the multitude! Marvelously and accurately does this correspond with the history of Christendom, for, following the establishment of Romanism, came the Dark Ages, when the multitudes were forsaken by Christ. After the break, come the next two parables spoken to the disciples only. These forecast the great Reformation in the days of Luther, Calvin, etc. Most significant is it that the central object in each is Christ seeking that which was hidden and bringing it to light. That which He first unearthed was the “treasure” hid in a field. How manifestly this found its parallel in the recovery of the precious Word of God which had for so long been kept back from the people! The parable of the “one pearl” anticipated the recovery of the blessed truth of the oneness in Christ of all God’s people.

The seventh parable, as its position in the series indicates, treats of conditions at the close of this dispensation. In the light of this, how very significant are the words at the end of verse 47: “A net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind.” No efforts are now being spared to attract fish of “every kind” into the various denominational “nets,” and everything that would tend to frighten or keep away worldlings is carefully avoided. In modern “church” (?) services there is something to suit the tastes and meet the needs of all, except the true children of God! Social, economic, and diplomatic problems and issues are discussed to satisfy the political mind. Worldly amusements are introduced to attract the lovers of pleasure. Grand organs are put in and professional vocalists engaged to soothe and charm the aesthetic. Dramatic speakers, so-called “Evangelists,” who are but religious showmen, are employed to please the sensation-monger. In short, everything that can please the flesh has been brought into the churches (?) to draw the crowds and thus catch fish of “every sort.” Sad it is that so much time, money, and energy are wasted in such misguided and God-dishonoring efforts. Sinners do not need amusing and cheering, but showing their lost condition. The business of the ministers of the Gospel is not to tickle ears, but to preach that which, by the Spirit’s application, will touch hearts and search consciences. Their duty is to make manifest the character of God, the awfulness of sin, the certainty of its punishment, and to bid their perishing hearers, “Flee from the wrath to come.”

The next thing to happen will be the removal of God’s saints from the earth, and their translation to heaven: see 1Th 4:16-17. Following this, after a brief interval, God will pour out His judgments upon the wicked, and then shall “the angels come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (vv. 49, 50). These verses will then receive a solemn and literal fulfillment. After this “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43), i.e., the upper or heavenly department of Christ’s millennial kingdom—Joh 1:51 implies the two spheres of the Messiah’s Kingdom. May the Lord grant that each reader of these articles shall

The Prophetic Scope of Matthew 24

The prophetic discourse of Christ found in Matthew 24 and 25 was delivered by Him in private to a few of His disciples less than a week before the Crucifixion. He had left the Temple for the last time. His public ministry was completed. He had announced to the leaders of the nation that, “your house is left unto you desolate,” and had declared, “You shall not see Me henceforth, till you shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”

As Christ left the Temple, accompanied by His disciples, they, no doubt, awed and puzzled by what He had just said, directed His attention to the magnificent buildings of the Temple, particularly to the massive stones of which they were constructed, saying, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” (Mar 13:1 and compare Joh 2:20). To which He responded, “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Mat 24:2). Then, as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, in full sight of the City and Temple, the disciples asked, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world ?” (Mat 24:3).

Each of the first three Gospels supply us with an inspired account of our Lord’s prophetic discourse, but it is only by diligently comparing them and noting their differences that we can discover the scope and design of each, for there is no mere repetition in Scripture. Luke’s account differs from Matthew’s and Mark’s in two important respects—what is related and what is omitted. Matthew’s account is based upon a threefold question, see Mat 24:3; whereas Luke’s is based upon a twofold question, see Luk 21:7. It is most important that the student should carefully note the omission of any reference to Christ’s “coming” in Luke’s account. The second main difference is connected with the time for “fleeing”. In Mat 24:15-16 we read, “When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand), then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains.” Whereas in Luk 21:20-21 we read. “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains.” That part of our Lord’s prophetic discourse recorded in Luke 21 (to the middle of v. 24) was all fulfilled by the year A.D. 70. First, Jerusalem was invested by Cestius Gallus, who was repulsed. Later, it was attacked by Titus, the emperor’s son, who was successful. But between the two besiegements, there is good reason to believe that, all Christians “fled,” and that none of them perished in Jerusalem. Luke’s “sign” is past, Matthew’s is yet future. It is most important to observe that in Matthew 24 no reference is made to the destruction of Jerusalem after verse 2; while, on the other hand, in Luke 21 no reference at all is made to “the abomination of desolation.’’

Now the first thing to do in taking up the study of Matthew 24 is to pay careful attention to its context, namely chapter 23. There, a sevenfold “woe” is uttered, and solemn sentence of doom is pronounced by the Lord Jesus upon the apostate nation of Israel. This is found in verses 34-38, closing with those fearful words, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Then the Lord added, “For I say unto you, you shall not see Me henceforth, till you shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 39). This last verse is most important. The “coming” of Christ which is there referred to is not His descent into the air to catch up the Church, but His return to the earth unto the people of Israel. It is this which supplies the key to Mat 24:3, and shows that everything in Matthew 24 is yet future and is wholly Jewish.

“And Jesus went out, and departed from the Temple” (v 1). Mark the first word of this verse: the “and” denotes that what follows gives a continuation, without any break, of that which is recorded in the closing verses of chapter 23. It supplies a solemn confirmation of what was there announced: “Your house is left unto you desolate” is verified by the words “And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple.”

“And His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, see ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (vv. 1, 2). This foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, or more specifically, the razing of the Temple. It is most important to observe that this was said before the prophetic discourse of Christ’s which is recorded in Mat 24:4 and onwards.

“And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be?” (v. 3). That this question was asked separately from “And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” or “age,” shows plainly that the “when shall these things be?” referred specifically to the overthrow of the Temple, which implied the destruction of the City. It is to be noted that only Luke records Christ’s answer to that question, see Luk 21:20-24. This part of our Lord’s prediction Matthew was guided to omit.

“And what shall be the sign of Thy coming?” (v. 3). What did the disciples have in mind when they asked this question? Surely there cannot be the slightest difficulty for us now to discover the true answer. So far as the inspired records go, up to this point the Lord had said nothing whatever to His disciples about His going to the Father’s house to prepare a place for His people, and of His coming again to receive them “unto Himself.” No hint whatever had been given of His future descent into the air for the purpose of removing His saints from this earth. Therefore this aspect of the Lord’s “coming” could not have been in the mind of the disciples at that time. It should be obvious to every honest heart and impartial mind that when they asked, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming ?” they had before them what He had just said to the nation of Israel, namely, “You shall not see Me henceforth, till you shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord” (Mat 21:9); which was His coming back to the earth,. One other thing enables us to fix the meaning of this question of the disciples, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming?” No “signs” are now given to or for those whose calling is a heavenly one. How could there be, when of them it is written, “we walk by faith, not by sight”? (2Co 5:7). God’s people today are not to be looking for “signs,” but listening for a sound, namely, the “shout” of the Lord (1Th 4:16)!

“And of the end of the age?” To what “age” did the disciples refer? Surely there can be only one answer: that associated with Christ’s “coming” to the earth itself. It should be carefully borne in mind that this question was asked by the disciples, as Jews, before the Cross, before the Christian dispensation began. It is of the greatest importance that this fact should be kept before us, for a mistake on that point necessarily involves an erroneous interpretation of what follows. If we remember that at this time the apostles had no thought of (or, at any rate, no real belief in) Christ’s death and resurrection, it should help us to see that the Christian “age” could not have been in their minds. They were Jews, in spirit, hopes, expectations—the very first verse of Matthew 24 (following right after Mat 23:38) more than hints at that. It is failure at this very point which has led so many to imagine that Matthew 24 teaches that “the Church” will pass through the great Tribulation.

It is to be carefully observed that in His answer the Lord referred the disciples to Daniel: “When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place” (v. 15). It is interesting to note that the expressions “the end” or “time of the end” occur in Daniel just thirteen times, and that they are found nowhere else in the Old Testament. These expressions refer to the unfulfilled 70th “week” of Dan 9:24-27, which brings to a close Israel’s national servitude under Gentile domination. The new “Age” will be introduced by the second advent of the Messiah to this earth and the consequent placing of Israel at the head of the nations. References to that “Age” are found in Heb 2:5, Heb 6:5. Thus the disciples rightly connected the “end of the age” with the “Coming” of Christ; for His return to this earth and the ending of the “Age,” i.e., the “Times of the Gentiles” synchronize. What is so important to note is that in Mat 23:39 Christ did not connect His “coming” with the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Temple, but with the glorious epoch of Israel’s national conversion.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (vv. 4, 5). The Lord was here addressing His disciples as the representatives of the godly Jewish remnant of the future. Matthew does not record Christ’s answer to their first question, that being given in Luke. There is nothing at all in Matthew 24 parallel with Luk 21:20. Nor is there anything in it which falls, directly, within the scope of the Christian dispensation. The whole of this parenthetical dispensation is ignored, coming in as it does between the 69th and 70th “weeks” of Daniel 9. Verses 4-14 of Matthew 24 treat of the first half of the 70th “week”; verses 15-30 of its second half. Though verses 4-7 describe conditions which have obtained, more or less, all through the centuries of this Christian era, yet will they appear in a much more intensified form during the Tribulation period.

Fuller and further details concerning the time covered by Christ’s prophetic discourse in Matthew 24 are furnished in the Revelation, the major portion of that book treating of the same period. At the close of this present dispensation Christendom is spewed out (Rev. 3), the saints are raptured (Rev 4:1), and then the united company of the redeemed are seen in Heaven worshipping God (Rev 4:4-11). Following this, the Lamb as the “Lion” of the “tribe of Judah takes “the book” (Rev. 5), and Israel at once appears on the scene. As soon as the “seals” of that book are broken we find that which corresponds exactly with what we have in Matthew 24. Marvelous, minute, and many are the parallels between the two chapters. At a few of them only shall we now glance.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Mat 24:4-5). This was the first part of the Lord’s reply to the questions asked by His disciples. “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four living creatures saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev 6:1-2). These words picture the Anti-christ deceiving men, posing as the true Christ—of. Rev 19:11.

“And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not troubled: for all must come to pass, but the end (i.e. of the 70th “week”) is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mat 24:6-7). “And when He had opened the second seal I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword” (Rev 6:3-4). Thus the contents of the second seal correspond exactly with the second part of Christ’s prophecy.

“And there shall be famines” (Mat 24:7). “And when he had opened the third seat, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse (the color of famine, see Lam 4:8; Lam 5:10); and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst, of the four living creatures say, A measure of wheat for a penny (a day’s wage, see Matthew 20:2) and three measures of barley for a penny” (Rev 6:5-6).

“And pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Mat 24:7). “And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with Him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (Rev 6:7-8).

“All these are the beginnings of sorrows” or “birth-pangs” (Mat 24:8). These “birth-pangs” are the travail which shall yet precede the birth of a regenerated Israel. If the reader desires to trace out the remaining correspondences between the two chapters let him compare Mat 24:8-28 with Rev 6:9-11; and then Mat 24:29-30 with Rev 6:12-17.

Passing on now to verse 15: “When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, whoso readeth let him understand.” This is the point which marks the division between the two halves of the 70th “week”; compare Dan 9:27. These words were addressed by Christ to His apostles, but the “ye” need occasion no difficulty. The Lord was speaking to them as Jews, as the representatives of those who shall be on earth at the time these things are fulfilled. That this is not a “begging of the question” should be clear by a reference to Mat 23:39: the word “Ye there was spoken to the scribes and pharisees as the representatives of the Nation both present and future, that is, of the nation as a unit. A similar instance is found in 1Th 4:17, “Then we which are alive.” The apostle did not say “they,” but addressed those Thessalonian saints, including himself, as the representatives of all believers who shall be alive on the earth at the Lord’s coming in the air.

The “abomination of desolation” is the image of Anti-christ (Rev. 13) which will yet be set up in the re-built Temple at Jerusalem. The reference here in Mat 24:15 is not to the defiling of the Temple by Titus, as Dan 9:27, Dan 11:31, Dan 12:11 clearly show. It is in “the midst of the week” that “sacrifice and oblation’’ are made to cease. It is then that the pseudo-Christ will throw off his mask and appear as an opposing Christ, demanding that Divine honors shall be paid to him alone: an Old Testament type of this is found in Dan 3:1-7.

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake (i.e. the sake of the godly Jewish remnant) those days shall be shortened” (Mat 24:21-22) The double reference to “those days,” and there is a third one in verse 19, finds its interpretation in the “when you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation” of verse 15. It was not the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus of which Christ here spoke. His words in verse 22 are clearly parallel with Dan 12:1, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book” i.e., God’s “elect” among the Jews. Thus the “great tribulation” of Mat 24:21 instead of referring to the time when Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel dispersed, speaks of that which shall immediately precede the day when they shall be “delivered.”

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe not” (Matthew 24:23). This has in view the time when the Man of Sin shall sit in the Temple of God “showing himself that he is God” (2Th 2:3-4).

“For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall the coming of the Son of man be” (Mat 24:27). Never once is this title of Christ’s used in any of the Pauline (Epistles which are addressed to the members of the Body of Christ. We are waiting the call of “Gods Son” (1Th 1:9-10).

“For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Mat 24:28). The “carcass refers to the apostate mass of Israel; the “eagles” are the symbols of Divine judgment: see Deu 28:26, Eze 39:17, Rev 19:17.

“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Mat 24:34). With this should be carefully compared Mat 12:43-45. Not only would not the Jewish nation (“generation”) pass away, but it would not cease as a “wicked generation.” But when Matthew 24 has been completely fulfilled then that “wicked generation” shall “pass away,” and be followed by a new Nation: see Psa 22:30-31; Psa 102:18; Deu 32:5, Deu 32:20.

The reference to “the days of Noah” in verses 37-39, Mat 24:37-39 are in striking accord with the rest of this prophetic discourse, and at once fix the scope thereof. First, Noah lived at the very close of the antediluvian age: so Matthew 24 describes conditions at the very end of the Jewish age. Second, Noah and his house were saved through a great and sore judgment of God: so an elect Jewish remnant will be preserved through the great Tribulation (Rev 12:6, Rev 12:14). Third, Noah and his house came forth from the ark on to an earth which had been swept clean by the besom of destruction, and entered into a new Age: so the godly Jewish remnant pass through the great tribulation, and from them will spring millennial Israel. Fourth, judgment consumed the ungodly: “So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” But how blessed for the Christian to remember that before the Flood began, Enoch—type of the Church—was translated! May this blessed hope be the stay of our hearts, and the purifying power for our walk. May we, instead of looking for “signs,” be listening for that Sound of all sounds; instead of dreading the swiftly approaching Tribulation, be found praising God that we shall be high above it all; instead of studying the character of Mussolini or others to find in them marks of the Man of Sin, may we be “looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13).

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:1-2

Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-2

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Demands of Faith

(Hebrews 12:1)

Our present verse is a call to constancy in the Christian profession; it is an exhortation unto steadfastness in the Christian life; it is a pressing appeal for making personal holiness our supreme business and quest. In substance our text is parallel with such verses as Matthew 16:24, Romans 6:13, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Philippians 3:12-14, Titus 2:12, 1 Peter 2:9-12. This summarization of the Christian’s twofold duty is given again and again in the Scriptures: the duty of mortification and of vivification, the putting off of the “old man” and the putting on of the “new man” (Eph. 4:22-24). Analyzing the particular terms of our text, we find there is, first, the duty enjoined: to “run the race that is set before us.” Second, the obstacles to be overcome: “lay aside every weight” etc. Third, the essential grace which is requisite thereto: “patience.” Fourth, the encouragement given: the “great cloud of witnesses.”

The opening “Wherefore” in our text looks back to Hebrews 10:35, 36, where the apostle had urged, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” That exhortation had been followed by a lengthy proof of the efficacy of persevering faith to enable its possessors to do whatever God commands, however difficult; to endure whatever God appoints, however severe; to obtain what He promises, however seemingly unattainable. All of this had been copiously illustrated in chapter 11, by a review of the history of God’s people in the past, who had exemplified so strikingly and so blessedly the nature, the trails, and the triumphs of a spiritual faith. Having affirmed the unity of the family of God, the oneness of the O. T. and N. T. saints, assuring the latter that God has provided some better thing for us, the apostle now repeats the exhortation unto steadfast perseverance in the path of faith and obedience.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us.” Here the apostle applies the various illustrations given in the preceding chapter, making use of them as a grand motive to perseverance in the Christian faith and state. “If all the saints of God lived, suffered, endured, and conquered by faith, shall not we also? If the saints who lived before the Incarnation, before the redemption was accomplished, before the High Priest entered the heavenly sanctuary, trusted in the midst of discouragements and trials, how much more aught we who know the name of Jesus, who have received the beginning, the installment of the great Messianic promise?” (Adolph Saphir). Herein we are shown that only then do we read the O. T. narratives unto profit when we draw from them incentives to practical godliness.

In Hebrews 11 we have had described at length many aspects and characteristics of the life of faith. There we saw that a life of faith is an intensely practical thing, consisting of very much more than day-dreaming, or being regaled with joyous emotions, or even resting in orthodox views of the truth. By faith Noah built an ark, Abraham separated from his idolatrous neighbors and gained a rich inheritance, Moses forsook Egypt and became leader of Israel’s hosts. By faith the Red Sea was crossed, Jericho captured, Goliath slain, the mouths of lions were closed, the violence of fire was quenched. A spiritual faith, then, is not a passive thing, but an active, energetic, vigorous, and fruitful one. The same line of thought is continued in the passage which is now before us, the same branch of truth is there in view again, only under a figure—a figure very emphatic and graphic.

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Here the Christian is likened unto an athlete, and his life unto the running of a race. This is one of a number of figures used in the N.T. to describe the Christian life. Believers are likened to shining lights, branches of the vine, soldiers, strangers and pilgrims: the last-mentioned more closely resembling the figure employed in our text, but with this difference: travelers may rest for awhile, and refresh themselves, but the racer must continue running or he ceases to be a “racer.” The figure of the race occurs frequently, both in the O. T. and N. T.: Psalm 119:32, Song of Solomon 1:4, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14, 2 Timothy 4:7. Very solemn is that word in Galatians 5:7, “ye did run well”: the Lord, in His mercy, grant that that may never be said of writer or reader.

The principal thoughts suggested by the figure of the “race” are rigorous self-denial and discipline, vigorous exertion, persevering endurance. The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxuriation, but of active “fighting the good fight of faith!” The Christian is not called to lie down on flowery beds of ease, but to run a race, and athletics are strenuous, demanding self-sacrifice, hard training, the putting forth of every ounce of energy possessed. I am afraid that in this work-hating and pleasure-loving age, we do not keep this aspect of the truth sufficiently before us: we take things too placidly and lazily. The charge which God brought against Israel of old applies very largely to Christendom today: “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1): to be “at ease” is the very opposite of “running the race.”

The “race” is that life of faith and obedience, that pursuit of personal holiness, to which the Christian is called by God. Turning from sin and the world in penitence and trust to Christ is not the finishing-post, but only the starting-point. The Christian race begins at the new birth, and ends not till we are summoned to leave this world. The prize to be run for is heavenly glory. The ground to be covered is our journey through this life. The track itself is “set before us”: marked out in the Word. The rules to be observed, the path which is to be traversed, the difficulties to be overcome, the dangers to be avoided, the source and secret of the needed strength, are all plainly revealed in the holy Scriptures. If we lose, the blame is entirely ours; if we succeed, the glory belongs to God alone.

The prime thought suggested in the figure of running the race set before us is not that of speed, but of self-discipline, whole-hearted endeavor, the calling into action of every spiritual faculty possessed by the new man. In his helpful commentary, J. Brown pointed out that a race is vigorous exercise. Christianity consists not in abstract speculations, enthusiastic feelings, or specious talk, but in directing all our energies into holy actions. It is a laborious exertion: the flesh, the world, the devil are like a fierce gale blowing against us, and only intense effort can overcome them. It is a regulated exertion: to run around in a circle is strenuous activity, but it will not bring us to the goal; we must follow strictly the prescribed course. It is progressive exertion: there is to be a growth in grace, an adding to faith of virtue, etc. (2 Pet. 1:5-7), a reaching forth unto those things which are before.

“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” We only “run” when we are very anxious to get to a certain place, when there is some attraction stimulating us. That word “run” then presupposes the heart eagerly set upon the goal. That “goal” is complete deliverance from the power of indwelling sin, perfect conformity to the lovely image of Christ, entrance into the promised rest and bliss on High. It is only as that is kept steadily in view, only as faith and hope are in real and daily exercise, that we shall progress along the path of obedience. To look back will cause us to halt or stumble; to look down at the roughness and difficulties of the way will discourage and produce slackening, but to keep the prize in view will nerve to steady endeavor. It was thus our great Exemplar ran: “Who for the JOY that was set before Him” (verse 2).

But let us now consider, secondly, the means prescribed: “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” That might be tersely expressed in several different forms: let us relinquish those things which would impede our spiritual progress; let us endeavor with might and main to overcome every hindering obstacle; let us attend diligently unto the way or method which will enable us to make the best speed. While sitting at our ease we are hardly conscious of the weight of our clothes, the articles held in our hands, or the cumbersome objects we may have in our pockets. But let us be aroused by the howlings of fierce animals, let us be pursued by hungry wolves, and methinks that none of us would have much difficulty in understanding the meaning of those words “let us lay aside every weight!”

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” While no doubt each of these expressions has a definite and separate force, yet we are satisfied that a certain school of writers err in drawing too sharp and broad a line of distinction between them, for a careful examination of their contentions will show that the very things they consider to be merely “weights,” are, in reality, sins. The fact is that in most quarters there has been, for many years past, a deplorable lowering of the standard of Divine holiness, and numerous infractions of God’s righteous law have been wrongly termed “failures,” “mistakes,” and “minor blemishes,” etc. Anything which minimizes the reality and enormity of sin is to be steadfastly resisted; anything which tends to excuse human “weaknesses” is to be rejected; anything which reduces that standard of absolute perfection which God requires us to constantly aim at—every missing of which is a sin—is to be shunned.

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” is parallel with, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24), and “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1). In other words, this dehortation is a calling upon the Christian to “mortify the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13), to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). There are two things which racers discard: all unnecessary burdens, and long flowing garments which would entangle them. Probably there is a reference to both of these in our text: the former being considered under “weights,” or those things we voluntarily encumber ourselves with, but which should be dropped; the latter, “the sin which doth so easily beset us” referring to inward depravity.

“Let us lay aside every weight” is a call to the sedulous and daily mortification of our hearts to all that would mar communion with Christ: it is parallel with “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12). Everything which requires us to take time and strength away from God-appointed duties, everything which tends to bind the mind to earthly things and hinders our affections from being set upon things above, is to be cheerfully relinquished for Christ’s sake. Everything which impedes my progress in running the race which God has set before me is to be dropped. But let it be carefully recognized that our text makes no reference to the dropping of duties which we have no right to lay aside. The performing of real and legitimate duty is never a hindrance to the spiritual life, though from a wrong attitude of mind and the allowance of the spirit of discontent, they often become so.

Many make a great mistake in entertaining the thought that their spiritual life is being much hindered by the very things which should, by Divine grace, be a real help to them. Opposition in the home from ungodly relatives, trials in connection with their daily work, the immediate presence of the wicked in the shop or office, are a real trial (and God intends they should be—to remind us we are still in a world which lieth in the Wicked one, to exercise our graces, to prove the sufficiency of His strength), but they need not be hindrances or “weights.” Many erroneously suppose they would make much more progress spiritually if only their “circumstances” were altered. This is a serious mistake, and a murmuring against God’s providential dealings with us. He shapes our “circumstances” as a helpful discipline to the soul, and only as we learn to rise above “circumstances,” and walk with God in them, are we “running the race that is set before us.” The person is the same no matter what “circumstances” he may be in!

While the “weights” in our text have no reference to those duties which God requires us to discharge—for He never calls us to any thing which would draw us away from communion with Himself; yet they do apply in a very real sense unto a multitude of cares which many of God’s people impose upon themselves—cares which are a grievous drag upon the soul. The artificial state in which many people now live, which custom, society, the world, imposes, does indeed bind many heavy burdens on the backs of their silly victims. If we accept that scale of “duties” which the fashion of this world imposes, we shall find them “weights” which seriously impede our spiritual progress: spending valuable time in reading newspapers and other secular literature in order to “keep up with the times,” exchanging “social calls” with worldlings, spending money on all sorts of unnecessary things so as to be abreast of our neighbors, are “weights” burdening many, and those “weights” are sins.

By “weights,” then, may be understood every form of intemperance or the immoderate and hurtful use made of any of those things which God has given us “richly to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Yes, to “enjoy” be it noted, and not only to use. The Creator has placed many things in this world—like the beautiful flowers and the singing birds—for our pleasure, as well as for the bare supply of our bodily needs. This should be borne in mind, for there is a danger here, as every where, of lopsidedness. We are well aware that in this age of fleshly indulgence the majority are greatly in danger of erring on the side of laxity, yet in avoiding this sin, others are in danger of swinging to the other extreme and being “righteous over much” (Ecclesiastes 7:16), adopting a form of monastic austerity, totally abstaining from things which Scripture in nowise prohibits.

Each Christian has to decide for himself, by an honest searching of Scripture and an earnest seeking of wisdom from God, what are “weights” which hinder him. While on the one hand it is wrong to assume an haughty and independent attitude, refusing to weigh in the balances of the sanctuary the conscientious scruples and prejudices of fellow-Christians; on the other hand it is equally wrong to suffer any to lord it over our consciences, and deprive us of our Christian liberty. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” It is not the lawful use of God’s creatures, but the intemperate abuse of them which Scripture condemns. More die from over eating than over drinking. Some constitutions are injured as much by coffee as by whiskey. Some are undermining their health by a constant round of exertions; others enervate themselves by spending too much time in bed.

The Greek word for “weights” is “tumor or swelling,” so that an excresence, a superfluity, is what is in view. A “weight” is something which we are at liberty to cast aside, but which instead we choose to retain. It is anything which retards our progress, anything which unfits us for the discharge of our God-assigned duties, anything which dulls the conscience, blunts the edge of our spiritual appetite, or chokes the spirit of prayer. The “cares of this world” weigh down the soul just as effectually as does a greedy grasping after the things of earth. The allowance of the spirit of envy will be as injurious spiritually as would an attendance at the movies. Fellowshipping at a Christ-dishonoring “church” quenches that Spirit as quickly as would seeking diversion at the dance hall. The habit of gossiping may do more damage to the Spiritual life than the excessive smoking of tobacco.

One of the best indications that I have entered the race is the discovery that certain things, which previously never exercised my conscience, are a hindrance to me; and the further I “run,” the more conscious shall I be of the “weights”; and the more determined I am, by God’s grace, to reach the winning post, the more readily shall I drop them. So many professing Christians never seem to have any “weights,” and we never see them drop anything. Ah, the fact is, they have never entered the race. O to be able to say with Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). When this is true of us, we shall not find it difficult, but rather easy to obey that injunction, “Go from the presence of a foolish man (or woman) when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7); and so with many other scriptural exhortations.

“And the sin which doth so easily beset (Greek “encompass”) us.” As we have already pointed out, the writer regards the “weights” as external temptations which have to be resisted, evil habits which are to be dropped; and “the sin” as referring to indwelling corruption, with a special reference (as the whole context suggests) to the workings of unbelief: compare Hebrews 3:13. It is true that each of us has some special form of sin to which we are most prone, and that he is more sorely tempted from one direction than another; but we think it is very clear from all which precedes our text that what the apostle has particularly in mind here is that which most seeks to hinder the exercise of faith. Let the reader ponder John 16:8, 9.

“This is confirmed by the experience of all who have been exercised in this case, who have met with great difficulties in, and have been called to suffer for, the profession of the Gospel. Ask of them what they have found in such cases to be their most dangerous enemy; what hath had the most easy and frequent access unto their minds, to disturb and dishearten them, of the power thereof they have been most afraid; they will all answer with one voice, it is the evil of their own unbelieving hearts. This hath continually attempted to entangle them, to betray them, in taking part with all outward temptations. When this is conquered, all things are plain and easy unto them. It may be some of them have had their particular temptations which they may reflect upon; but any other evil by sin, which is common unto them all, as this is, they can fix on none” (John Owen).

But how is the Christian to “lay aside” indwelling sin and its particular workings of unbelief? This injunction is parallel with Ephesians 4:22, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” And how is that to be done? By heeding the exhortation of Romans 6:11, 12, “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” In other words, by faith’s recognition of my legal oneness with Christ, and by drawing from His fullness. Indwelling sin is to be “laid aside” by daily mortification (Rom. 8:13), by seeking grace to resist its solicitations (Titus 2:11, 12), by repenting, confessing, and forsaking the effects of its activities (Prov. 28:13), by diligently using the means which God has provided for holy living (Gal. 5:16).

“Run with patience the race that is set before us.” Perseverance or endurance is the prime prerequisite for the discharge of this duty. The good-ground hearer brought forth fruit “with patience” (Luke 8:15). We are bidden to be “followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). The “race” appointed is a lengthy one, for it extends throughout the whole of our earthly pilgrimage. The course is narrow, and to the flesh, rough. The racer often becomes disheartened by the difficulties encountered. But “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).

But how is this needed “patience” to be acquired? A twofold answer is given, the second part of which will be before us in the next article. First, by heeding the encouragement which is here set before us: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses let us lay aside… let us run.” The reference is to the heroes of faith mentioned in the previous chapter: they compose a testimony for God, and speak unto future generations to be constant as they were. They witness to how noble a thing life may be when it is lived by faith. They witness to the faithfulness of God who sustained them, and enabled them to triumph over their foes, and overcome their difficulties. In likening these numerous witnesses unto a “cloud” there is no doubt a reference unto the Cloud which guided Israel in the wilderness: they followed it all the way to Canaan! So must we follow the noble example of the O.T. saints in their faith, obedience, and perseverance.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us.” This is mentioned as an incentive, to console and assure us we are not alone. As we look around at the empty profession on every side, and behold the looseness and laxity of so many who bear the name of Christ, Satan seeks to make us believe that we are wrong, too “strict,” and rebukes us for our “singularity.” No doubt he employed the same tactics with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses; but they heeded him not. Nor should we. We are not “singular”: if faithful to Christ we are following “the footsteps of the flock” (Song 1:8). Others before us have trod the same path, met with the same hindrances, fought the same fight. They persevered, conquered, and won the crown: then “let us run.” That is the thought and force of the opening words of our text.

“We who have still to walk in the narrow path which alone leads to glory are encouraged and instructed by the cloud of witnesses, the innumerable company of saints, who testified amid the most varied circumstances of suffering and temptation, that the just live by faith, and that faith is the victory which overcometh the world. The memory of those children of God, whose lives are recorded for our learning and consolation, animates us, and we feel upheld as it were by their sympathy and by the consciousness, that although few and weak, strangers and pilgrims on earth, we belong to a great and mighty, nay, a victorious army, part of which has already entered into the land of peace” (Adolph Saphir).

The Object of Faith

(Hebrews 12:2)

The verse which is now to engage our attention continues and completes the important exhortation found in the one which was before us in the last article. The two verses are so closely related that only the requirements of space obliged us to separate them. The latter supplies such a blessed sequel to the former that it will be necessary to present a summary of our comments thereon. We saw that the Christian life, the life of faith and obedience, is presented under the figure of a “race,” which denotes that so far from its being a thing of dreamy contemplation or abstract speculation, it is one of activity, exertion, and progressive motion, for faith without works is dead. But the “race” speaks not only of activity, but of regulated activity, following the course which is “set before us.” Many professing Christians are engaged in multitudinous efforts which God has never bidden them undertake: that is like running round and round in a circle. To follow the appointed track means that our energies be directed by the precepts of Holy Writ.

The order presented in Hebrews 12:1 is the negative before the positive: there must be the “laying aside” of hindering weights, before we can “run” the race set before us. This order is fundamental, and is emphasized all through Scripture. There must be a turning from the world, before there can be a real turning unto the Lord (Isa. 55:7); self must be denied before Christ can be followed (Matthew 16:24). There must be a putting off the old man, before there can be any true putting on of the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). There has to be a “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,” before we can “live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world” (Titus 3:12). There has to be a “cleansing of ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” before there can be any “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We must “be not conformed to this world,” before we can be “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” so that we may “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2, 3).

Before the plants and flowers will flourish in the garden weeds must be rooted up, otherwise all the labors of the gardener will come to naught. As the Lord Jesus taught so plainly in the Parable of the Sower, where the “thorns” are permitted to thrive, the good Seed, the Word, is “choked” (Matthew 13:22); and it is very searching and solemn to note, by a careful comparison of the three records of it, that Christ interpreted this figure of the “thorns” more fully than any other single detail. He defined those choking “thorns” as “the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches,” “the lust of other things and pleasures of this life.” If those things fill and rule our hearts, our relish for spiritual things will be quenched, our strength to perform Christian duties will be sapped, our lives will be fruitless, and we shall be merely cumberers of the ground—the garden of our souls being filled with briars and weeds.

Hence it is that the first call in Hebrews 12:1 is “let us lay aside every weight.” “Inordinate care for the present life, and fondness for it, is a dead weight for the soul, that pulls it down when it should ascend upwards and pulls it back when it should press forwards” (Matthew Henry). It is the practical duty of mortification which is here inculcated, the abstaining from those fleshly lusts “which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). The racer must be as lightly clad as possible if he is to run swiftly: all that would cumber and impede him must be relinquished. Undue concern over temporal affairs, inordinate affection for the things of this life, the intemperate use of any material blessings, undue familiarity with the ungodly, are “weights” which prevent progress in godliness. A bag of gold would be as great a handicap to a runner as a bag of lead!

It is to be carefully noted that the laying aside of “every weight” precedes “and the sin which does so easily beset us”, which has reference to indwelling corruption. Each Christian imagines that he is very anxious to be completely delivered from the power of indwelling sin: ah, but our hearts are very deceitful, and ever causing us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. A criterion is given in this passage by which we may gauge the sincerity of our desires: our longing to be delivered from indwelling evil is to be measured by our willingness and readiness to lay aside the “weights.” I may think I am earnestly desirous of having a beautiful garden, and may go to much expense and trouble in purchasing and planting some lovely flowers; but if I am too careless and lazy to diligently fight the weeds, what is my desire worth? So, if I disregard that word “make not provision for the flesh unto the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14), how sincere is my desire to be delivered from “the flesh!”

“And let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” For this two things are needed: speed and strength—”rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race” (Ps. 19:5): the one being opposed to sloth and negligence, the other to weakness. These are the prime requisites: strength in grace, diligence in exercise. Speed is included in the word “run”, but how is the strength to be obtained? This “race” calls for both the doing and suffering for Christ, the pressing forward toward the mark set before us, the progressing from one degree of strength to another, the putting forth of our utmost efforts, the enduring unto the end. Ah, who is sufficient for such a task? First, we are reminded of those who have preceded us, many, a “great cloud”: and their faith is recorded for our instruction, their victory for our encouragement. Yet that is not sufficient: their cases afford us a motive, but they do not supply the needed power. Hence, we are next told:

“Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (verse 2). “The cloud of witnesses is not the object on which our heart is fixed. They testify of faith, and we cherish their memory with gratitude, and walk with a firmer step because of the music of their lives. Our eye, however, is fixed, not on many, but on One; not on the army, but the Leader; not on the servants, but the Lord. We see Jesus only, and from Him we derive our true strength, even as He is our light of life” (Adolph Saphir). In all things Christ has the pre-eminence: He is placed here not among the other “racers,” but as One who, instead of exemplifying certain characteristics of faith, as they did, is the “Author and Finisher” of faith in His own person.

Our text presents the Lord as the supreme Example for racers, as well as the great Object of their faith, though this is somewhat obscured by the rendering of the A.V. Our text is not referring to Christ begetting faith in His people and sustaining it to the end, though that is a truth plainly enough taught elsewhere. Instead, He is here viewed as the One, who Himself began and completed the whole course of faith, so as to be Himself the one perfect example and witness of what faith is. It was because of “the joy set before Him”—steadily and trustfully held in view—that He ran His race. His “enduring of the cross” was the completest trial and most perfect exemplification of faith. In consequence, He is now seated at the right hand of God, as both the Pattern and Object of faith, and His promise is “to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

It is to be duly noted that the little word “our” is a supplement, being supplied by the translators: it may without detriment, and with some advantage, be omitted. The Greek word for “Author” does not mean so much one who “causes” or “originates,” as one who “takes the lead.” The same word is rendered “Captain of our salvation” in Hebrews 2:10, and in Acts 3:15, the “Prince of life.” There its obvious meaning is Leader or Chief, one going in advance of those who follow. The Savior is here represented as the Leader of all the long procession of those who had lived by faith, as the great Pattern for us to imitate. Confirmation of this is found in the Spirit’s use of the personal name “Jesus” here, rather than His title of office—”Christ.” Stress is thereby laid upon His humanity. The Man Jesus was so truly made like unto His brethren in all things that the life which He lived was the life of faith.

Yes, the life which Jesus lived here upon earth was a life of faith. This has not been given sufficient prominence. In this, as in all things, He is our perfect Model. “By faith He walked, looking always unto the Father, speaking and acting in filial dependence on the Father, and in filial reception out of the Father’s fullness. By faith He looked away from all discouragements, difficulties, and oppositions, committing His cause to the Lord, who had sent Him, to the Father, whose will He had come to fulfill. By faith He resisted and overcame all temptation, whether it came from Satan, or from the false Messianic expectations of Israel, or from His own disciples. By faith He performed the signs and wonders, in which the power and love of God’s salvation were symbolized. Before He raised Lazarus from the grave, He, in the energy of faith, thanked God, who heard Him alway. And here we are taught the nature of all His miracles: He trusted in God. He gave the command, ‘Have faith in God’, out of the fullness of His own experience” (Adolph Saphir).

But let us enter into some detail. What is a life of faith? First, it is a life lived in complete dependence upon God. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding… in all thy ways acknowledge Him” (Prov. 3:5, 6.) Never did any so entirely, so unreservedly, so perfectly cast himself upon God as did the Man Christ Jesus; never was another so completely yielded to God’s will. “I live by the Father” (John 6:57) was His own avowal. When tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger, He replied “man shall not live by bread alone.” So sure was He of God’s love and care for Him that He held fast to His trust and waited for Him. So patent to all was His absolute dependence upon God, that the very scorners around the cross turned it into a bitter taunt.—”He trusted in the Lord that He would deliver Him, let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him” (Ps. 22:8).

Second, a life of faith is a life lived in communion with God. And never did another live in such a deep and constant realization of the Divine presence as did the Man Christ Jesus. “I have set the Lord always before Me” (Ps. 16:8) was His own avowal. “He that sent Me is with Me” (John 8:29) was ever a present fact to His consciousness. He could say, “I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art My God from My mother’s belly” (Ps. 22:10). “And in the morning, rising a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). From Bethlehem to Calvary He enjoyed unbroken and unclouded fellowship with the Father; and after the three hours of awful darkness was over, He cried “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

Third, a life of faith is a life lived in obedience to God. Faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6), and love delights to please its object. Faith has respect not only to the promises of God, but to His precepts as well. Faith not only trusts God for the future, but it also produces present subjection to His will. Supremely was this fact exemplified by the Man Christ Jesus. “I do always those things which please Him” (John 8:29) He declared. “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49) characterized the whole of His earthly course. Ever and anon we find Him conducting Himself. “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” He lived by every word of God. At the close He said, “I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:10).

Fourth, a life of faith is a life of assured confidence in the unseen future. It is a looking away from the things of time and sense, a rising above the shows and delusions of this world, and having the affections set upon things above. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), enabling its possessor to live now in the power and enjoyment of that which is to come. That which enthralls and enchains the ungodly had no power over the perfect Man: “I have overcome the world” (John 16:31), He declared. When the Devil offered Him all its kingdoms, He promptly answered, “Get thee hence, Satan.” So vivid was Jesus’ realization of the unseen, that, in the midst of earth’s engagements, He called Himself “the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13).

“And so, dear brethren, this Jesus, in the absoluteness of His dependence upon the Father, in the completeness of His trust in Him, in the submission of His will to that Supreme command, in the unbroken communion which He held with God, in the vividness with which the Unseen ever burned before Him, and dwarfed and extinguished all the lights of the present, and in the respect which He had ‘unto the recompense of the reward’; nerving Him for all pain and shame, has set before us all the example of a life of faith, and is our Pattern as in everything, in this too.

“How blessed it is to feel, when we reach out our hands and grope in the darkness for the unseen hand, when we try to bow our wills to that Divine will; when we seek to look beyond the mists of ‘that dim spot which men call earth,’ and to discern the land that is very far off; and when we endeavor to nerve ourselves for duty and sacrifice by bright visions of a future hope, that on this path of faith too, when He ‘putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them,’ and has bade us do nothing which He Himself has not done! ‘I will put My trust in Him,’ He says first, and then He turns to us and commands, ‘Believe in God, believe also in Me’” (A. Maclaren, to whom we are indebted for much in this article).

Alas, how very little real Christianity there is in the world today! Christianity consists in being conformed unto the image of God’s Son. “Looking unto Jesus” constantly, trustfully, submissively, lovingly; the heart occupied with, the mind stayed upon Him—that is the whole secret of practical Christianity. Just in proportion as I am occupied with the example which Christ has left me, just in proportion as I am living upon Him and drawing from His fullness, am I realizing the ideal He has set before me. In Him is the power, from Him must be received the strength for running “with patience” or steadfast perseverance, the race. Genuine Christianity is a life lived in communion with Christ: a life lived by faith, as His was. “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21); “Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20)—Christ living in me and through me.

There are four things said in our text about the Savior’s life, each of which we need to ponder carefully. First, the motive or reason which prompted Jesus to do and suffer, wherein He is presented as our example and encouragement: “who for the joy that was set before Him.” Here is made known to us what was the final moving cause in His mind which sustained the Savior to a persevering performance of duty, and of the endurance of all sufferings that duty entailed. Various definitions have been given of that “joy,” and probably all of them are included within its scope. The glory of God was what the Redeemer preferred above all things: Hebrews 10:5-9, but that glory was inseparably bound up with the personal exaltation of the Redeemer and the salvation of His Church following the accomplishment of the work given Him to do. This was “set before Him” in the everlasting covenant.

Thus the “joy” that was set before Jesus was the doing of God’s will, and His anticipation of the glorious reward which should be given Him in return. Hebrews 12:2 sustains the figure used in the previous verse: it is as the model Racer our Savior is here viewed. At the winning-post hung a crown, in full view of the racers, and this was ever before the eye of the Captain of our salvation, as He pursued the course appointed Him by the Father. He steadily kept before Him the cheering and blissful reward: His heart laid hold of the Messianic promises and prophecies recorded in Holy Writ: He had in steady prospect that satisfaction with which the travail of His soul would be fully compensated. By faith Abraham looked forward to a “City” (11:10); by faith Isaac anticipated “things to come” (11:20); by faith Moses “had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (11:26); and by faith, Jesus lived and died in the enjoyment of that which was “set before Him.”

Second, He “endured the cross.” Therein we have the Commander’s example to His soldiers of heroic fortitude. Those words signify far more than that He experienced the shame and pain of crucifixion: they tell us that He stood steadfast under it all. He endured the cross not sullenly or even stoically, but in the highest and noblest sense of the term:—with holy composure of soul. He never wavered or faltered, murmured or complained: “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it” (John 18:11)! And He has left us an example that we should “follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21), and therefore does He declare, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24). Strength for this task is to be found by “looking unto Jesus,” by keeping steadily before faith’s eye the crown, the joy awaiting us.

Third, “despising the shame.” Therein we see the Captain’s contempt of whatever sought to bar His progress. We scarcely think of associating this word “despising” with the meek and lowly Jesus. It is an ugly term, yet there are things which deserve it. The Savior viewed things in their true perspective; He estimated them at their proper worth: in the light of the joy set before Him, He regarded hardship, ignominy, persecution, sufferings from men, as trifles. Here, too, He has left us “an example.” But alas, instead of scorning it, we magnify and are intimidated by “the shame.” How many are ashamed to be scripturally baptized and wear His uniform. How many are ashamed to openly confess Christ before the world. Meditate more upon the reward, the crown, the eternal joy—that outweighs all the little sacrifices we are now called upon to make.

Fourth, “and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here we witness the Captain’s triumph, His actual entrance into the joy anticipated, His being crowned with glory and honor. His “sitting down” denoted three things. First, rest after finished work, the race run. Second, being invested with dominion: He now occupies the place of supreme sovereignty: Matthew 28:18, Philippians 2:10. Third, being intrusted with the prerogative of judgment: John 17: 2, Acts 17:30. And what have these three things to do with us, His unworthy followers? Much indeed: eternal rest is assured the successful racer: Revelation 13:14. A place on Christ’s throne is promised the overcomer: Revelation 3:21. Dominion too is the future portion of him who vanquishes this world: Revelation 2:26, 27. Finally, it is written “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? “Do ye not know we shall judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2, 3). “Joint heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).

One other word in our text yet remains to be considered: “looking unto Jesus the Author (Captain) and Finisher (Perfecter) of our faith.” We have already seen from the other occurrences of this term (in its various forms) in our Epistle, that it is a very full one. Here, we believe, it has at least a twofold force. First, Completer: Jesus is the first and the last as an example of confidence in and submission unto God: He is the most complete model of faith and obedience that can be brought before us. Instead of including Him with the heroes of faith in chapter 11, He is here distinguished from them, as being above them. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending: as there was none hitherto who could be compared with Him, so there will be none hereafter. “Author and Finisher” or “Captain and Completer” means Jesus is beyond all comparison.

The fact that we are bidden to be looking unto Jesus as “the Leader and Finisher of faith” also denotes that He perfects our faith. How? First, by His grace flowing into us. We need something more than a flawless Model set before us: who can in his own strength imitate the perfect Man? But Christ has not only gone before His own, He also dwells in their hearts by faith, and as they yield themselves to His control (and only so) does He live through them. Second, by leading us (Ps. 23:3) along the path of discipline and trial, drawing our hearts away from the things of earth, and fixing them upon Himself. He often makes us lonesome here that we may seek His companionship. Finally, by actually conducting us to glory: He will “come again” (John 14:2) and conform us to His image.

“Looking unto Jesus.” The person of the Savior is to be the “mark” on which the eyes of those who are pressing forward for the prize of the high calling of God, are to be fixed. Be constantly “looking” to Him, trustfully, submissively, hopefully, expectantly. He is the Fountain of all grace (John 1:16): our every need is supplied by God “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Then seek the help of the Holy Spirit that the eye of faith be steadfastly fixed on Christ. He has declared “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” then let us add, “The Lord is my Helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5, 6). Salvation is by grace, through faith: it is through “faith” we are saved, not only from Hell, but also from this world (1 John 5:4), from temptation, from the power of indwelling sin—by coming to Christ, trusting in Him, drawing from Him.

What are the things which hinder us running? An active Devil, an evil world, indwelling sin, mysterious trials, fierce opposition, afflictions which almost make us doubt the love of the Father. Then call to mind the “great cloud of witnesses”: they were men of like passions with us, they encountered the same difficulties and discouragements, they met with the same hindrances and obstacles. But they ran “with patience,” they overcame, they won the victor’s crown. How? By “looking unto Jesus”: see Hebrews 11:26. But more: look away from difficulties (Rom. 4:19), from self, from fellow-racers, unto Him who has left us an example to follow, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, so that He is able to succor the tempted, strengthen the weak, guide the perplexed, supply our every need. Let the heart be centered in and the mind stayed upon HIM.

The more we are “looking unto Jesus” the easier will it be to “lay aside every weight.” It is at this point so many fail. If the Christian denies self of different things without an adequate motive (for Christ’s sake), he will still secretly hanker after the things relinquished, or ere long return to them, or become proud of his little sacrifices and become self-righteous. The most effective way of getting a child to drop any dirty or injurious object, is to proffer him something better. The best way to make a tired horse move more quickly, is not to use the whip, but to turn his head toward home! So, if our hearts be occupied with the sacrificial love of Christ for us, we shall be “constrained” thereby to drop all that which displeases Him; and the more we dwell upon the Joy set before us, the more strength shall we have to run “with patience the race that is set before us.”

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:3-4

Commentary on Hebrews 12:3-4

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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A Call to Steadfastness

(Hebrews 12:3, 4)

At first sight it is not easy to trace the thread which unites the passage that was last before us and the verses which are now to engage our attention: there appears to be no direct connection between the opening verses of Hebrews 12 and those which follow. But a closer examination of them shows they are intimately related: in verses 3, 4 the apostle completes the exhortation with which the chapter opens. In verse 1 the apostle borrowed a figure from the Grecian Games, namely, the marathon race, and now in verse 4 he refers to another part of those games—the contest between the gladiators in the arena. Second, he had specified the principal grace required for the Christian race, namely, “Patience” or perseverance; so now in verse 3 he is urging them against faintness of mind or impatience. Third, he had enforced his exhortation by bidding the saints to “look unto Jesus” their great Exemplar; so here he calls on them to “consider Him” and emulate His steadfastness.

Yet, the verses which are now before us are not a mere repetition of those immediately preceding: rather do they present another, though closely related aspect of the Christian life or “race.” In verse 1 the racers are bidden to “lay aside every weight,” and in verse 3 it is the “contradiction of sinners” which has to be endured: the former, are hindrances which proceed more from within; the latter, are obstacles which are encountered from without. In the former case, it is the evil solicitations of the flesh which would have to be resisted; in the other, it is the persecutions of the world which have to be endured. In verse 1 it is “the sin which doth so easily beset” or “encircle us”—inward depravity—which must be “laid aside”; in verse 4 it is martyrdom which must be prepared for, lest we yield to the “sin” of apostasy.

Now the secret of success, the way to victory, is the same in either case. To enable us to “lay aside” all that hinders from within, there has to be a trustful “looking unto Jesus,” and to enable us to “endure” the oppositions encountered from without and to “strive” against inconstancy and wavering in our profession, we must thoughtfully “consider Him” who was hounded and persecuted as none other ever was. As the incentive to self-denial we are to be occupied with our great Leader, and remember how much He “laid aside” for us—He who was rich for our sakes became poor; He who was “in the form of God” divested Himself of His robes of glory and took upon Him “the form of a servant.” We are not called on to do something which He did not He vacated the throne and took up His cross! Likewise, the chief source of comfort and encouragement when we are called upon to suffer for His sake, is to call to mind the infinitely greater sufferings which He endured for our sakes.

The more we endeavor to emulate the example which the Lord Jesus has left us, the more shall we be opposed from without; the more closely we follow Him, the greater will be the enmity of our fellow-men against us. Our lives will condemn theirs, our ways will be a perpetual rebuke to them, and they will do all they can to discourage and hinder, provoke and oppose. And the tendency of such persecution is to dishearten us, to tempt us to compromise, to ask “What is the use?” Because of this, the blessed Spirit bids us, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Let the experiences through which Christ passed be the subject of daily contemplation. The record of His unparalleled temptations and trials, His endurance, and His victory, is to be the grand source of our instruction, comfort and encouragement. If we have grown “faint and weary” in our minds, it is because we have failed to properly and profitably “consider Him.”

Supremely important is a knowledge of the Scriptures concerning the Lord Jesus: there can be no experimental holiness, no growth in grace apart from the same. Vital godliness consists in a practical conformity to the image of God’s Son: it is to follow the example which He has left us, to take His yoke upon us and learn of Him. For this, there must needs be an intimate knowledge of His ways, a prayerful and believing study of the record of His life, a daily reading of and meditating thereon. That is why the four Gospels are placed at the beginning of the N.T.—they are of first importance. What we have in the Epistles is principally an interpretation and application of the four Gospels to the details of our walk. O that we may say with ever-deepening purpose of heart, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). O that we may “follow on to know the Lord” (Hos. 6:3)

“For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3, 4). The whole of this is a dehortation or caution against an evil, which if yielded to will prevent our discharge of the duty inculcated in verses 1, 2. That which is dehorted against is “be not wearied”—give not up the race, abandon not your Christian profession. The way whereby we may fall into that evil is by becoming “faint” in our minds. The means to prevent this is the diligent contemplation of our great Exemplar.

In verses 1, 2 the apostle had exhorted unto a patient or persevering pressing forward in the path of faith and obedience. In verses 3-11 he presents a number of considerations or motives to hearten us in our course, seeking particularly to counteract the enervating influence which difficulties are apt to exert upon the minds of God’s tried people. The tendency of strong and lasting opposition and persecution is to discourage, which if yielded unto leads to despair. To strengthen the hearts of those tried Hebrews, the apostle bade them consider the case of Christ Himself: He encountered far worse sufferings than we do, yet He patiently “endured” them (verse 3). Then they were reminded that their case was by no means desperate and extreme—they had not yet been called to suffer a death of martyrdom. Finally, their very difficulties were the loving chastisement of their Father, designed for their profit (verses 5-11). By what a variety of means does the blessed Spirit strengthen, stablish, and comfort tried believers!

Are you, dear reader, disheartened by the hard usage you are receiving from men, yea, from the religions world; are you fearful as you anticipate the persecutions which may yet attend your Christian profession; or, are you too ready to show resentment against those who oppose you? Then “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” The connecting “For” has the force here of “moreover:” in addition to “looking unto Jesus” as your Leader and Perfecter, consider Him in His steadfastness under relentless persecution. Faith has many actings or forms of exercise: it is to reflect, contemplate, call to mind—God’s past ways with us, His dealings with His people of old, and particularly the recorded history of His beloved and incarnate Son. We are greatly the losers if we fail to cultivate the habit of devout consideration and holy meditation. The Greek word for “consider” is not the same as the one used in Hebrews 3:1 and Hebrews 10:24; in fact it is a term which occurs, in this form, nowhere else in the N.T.

The Greek word for “consider” in our text is derived from the one rendered “proportion” in Romans 12:6. It is a mathematical term, signifying to compute by comparing things together in their due proportions. It means: form a just and accurate estimate. “For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself:” draw an analogy between His sufferings and yours, and what proportion is there between them! Weigh well who He was, the place He took, the infinite perfection of His character and deeds; and then the base ingratitude, the gross injustice, the cruel persecution He met with. Calculate and estimate the constancy of the opposition He encountered, the type of men who maligned Him, the variety and intensity of His sore trials, and the spirit of meekness and patience with which He bore them. And what are our trifling trials when compared with His agonies, or even to our deserts! O my soul blush with shame because of thy murmurings.

“Consider Him” in the ineffable excellency of His person. He was none other than the Lord of glory, the Beloved of the Father, the second person in the sacred Trinity, the Creator of heaven and earth. Now, since He suffered here on earth, why should you, having enlisted under His banner, think it strange that you should be called on to endure a little hardness in His service! Consider his relationship to you: He is your Redeemer and Proprietor: is it not sufficient for the disciple to be as his Master, the servant as his Lord? If the Head was spared not trial and shame, shall the members of His body complain if they be called on to have some fellowship with Him in this? When you are tempted to throw down your colors and capitulate to the Enemy, or even to murmur at your hard lot, “Consider Him” who when here “had not where to lay His head.”

The particular sufferings of Christ which are here singled out for our consideration are, the “contradiction of sinners” which He encountered. He was opposed constantly, by word and action; He was opposed by His own people according to the flesh; He was opposed by the very ones to whom He ministered in infinite grace and loving-kindness. That opposition began at His birth, when there was no room in the inn—He was not wanted. It was seen again in His infancy, when Herod sought to slay Him, and His parents were forced to flee with Him into Egypt. Little else is told us in the N.T., about His early years, but there is a Messianic prophecy in Psalm 88:15 where we hear Him pathetically saying, “I am afflicted and ready to die from My youth up!” As soon as His public ministry commenced, and during the whole of its three years’ course, He endured one unbroken, relentless, “contradiction of sinners against Himself.”

The Lord Jesus was derided as the Prophet, mocked as the King, and treated with the utmost contempt as the Priest and Savior. He was accused of deceiving (John 7:12) and perverting the people (Luke 23:14). His teaching was opposed, and His person was insulted. Because He conversed with and befriended publicans and sinners, He was “murmured” at (Luke 15:2). Because He performed works of mercy on the sabbath day, He was charged with breaking the law (Mark 3:2). The gracious miracles which He wrought upon the sick and demon-possessed, were attributed to His being in league with the Devil (Matthew 12:24). He was regarded as a low-born fanatic. He was branded as a “glutton and winebibber.” He was accused of speaking against Caesar (John 19:12), whereas He had expressly bidden men to render unto Caesar what rightly belonged to him (Matthew 22:21). Though He was the Holy One of God, there was scarcely anything about Him that was not opposed.

“For consider Him who endured such contradiction” Here is emphasized the greatness of Christ’s sufferings: “such contradiction”—so bitter, so severe, so malicious, so protracted; everything which the evil wits of men and Satan could invent. That word “such” is also added to awaken our wonderment and worship. Though the incarnate Son of God, He was spat upon, contemptuously arrayed in a purple robe and His enemies bowed the knee before Him in mockery. They buffeted Him and smote Him on the face. They tore His back with scourgings, as was foretold by the Psalmist (Ps. 129:3). They condemned Him to a criminal’s death, and nailed Him to the Cross, and that, between two thieves, to add to His shame. And this, at the hands of men who, though they made a great show of sanctity, were “sinners.”

Christ felt keenly that “contradiction,” for He was the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. At the end, He exclaimed “reproach hath broken My heart” (Ps. 69:20). Nevertheless, He turned not aside from the path of duty, still less did He abandon His mission. He fled not from His enemies, and fainted not under their merciless persecution: instead, He “endured” it. As we pointed out in our exposition of the previous verse, that word is used of Christ in its highest and noblest sense. He bore patiently every ignominy that was heaped upon Him. He never retaliated or reviled His traducers. He remained steadfast unto the end, and finished the work which had been given Him to do. When the supreme crises arrived, He faltered not, but “set His face as a flint to go up to Jerusalem” (Isa. 50:7, Luke 9:51).

Do you, tried reader, feel that your cup of opposition is a little fuller than that of some of your fellow Christians? Then look away to the cup which Christ drank! Here is the Divine antidote against weariness: Christ meekly and triumphantly “endured” far, far worse than anything you are called on to suffer for His sake; yet He fainted not. When you are weary in your mind because of trials and injuries from the enemies of God, “consider” Christ, and this will quieten and suppress thy corrupt propensities to murmuring and impatience. Set Him before thy heart as the grand example and encouragement—example in patience, encouragement in the blessed issue: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Faith’s consideration of Him will work a conformity unto Him in our souls which will preserve from fainting.

“Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” There is no connecting “and” in the Greek: two distinct thoughts are presented: “lest ye be wearied,” that is, so discouraged as to quit; “faint in your mind,” states the cause thereof. The word for “weary” here is a strong one: it signifies exhausted, being so despondent as to break one’s resolution. In its ultimate meaning, it refers to such a state of despondency as an utter sinking of spirit, through the difficulties, trials, opposition and persecution encountered as to “look back” (Luke 9:62), and either partially or wholly abandon one’s profession of the Gospel. In other words, it is another warning against apostasy. What we are cautioned against here is the opposite of that which the Lord commended in the Ephesian Church, “And for My name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted” (Rev. 2:3)—here there is perseverance in the Christian profession despite all opposition.

At different periods of history God has permitted fierce opposition to break out against His people, to test the reality and strength of their attachment to Christ. This was the case with those to whom our Epistle was first addressed: they were being exposed to great trials and sufferings, temptations and privations; hence the timeliness of this exhortation, and its accompanying warning. Reproaches, losses, imprisonments, scourgings, being threatened with death, have a strong tendency to produce dejection and despair; they present a powerful temptation to give up the fight. And naught but the vigorous activity of faith will fortify the mind under religious persecution. Only as the heart is encouragingly occupied with Christ’s endurance of the “contradiction of sinners against Himself,” will our resolution be strong to endure unto the end: “In the world ye shall have tribulations: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“Faint in your minds.” This it is which, if not resisted and corrected, leads to the “weariness” or utter exhaustion of the previous clause. This faintness of mind is the reverse of vigor and cheerfulness. If, under the strong opposition and fierce persecution, we are to “endure unto the end,” then we must watch diligently against the allowance of such faintness of mind. There is a spiritual vigor required in order to perseverence in the Christian profession during times of persecution. Hence it is that we are exhorted, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (1 Pet. 4:1); “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in the heavenlies. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand” (Eph. 6:12, 13); “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Any degree of faintness of mind in the Christian results from and consists in a remitting of the cheerful actions of faith in the various duties which God has called us to discharge. Nothing but the regular exercise of faith keeps the soul calm and restful, patient and prayerful. If faith ceases to be operative, and our mind be left to cope with difficulties and trials in our own natural strength, then we shall soon grow weary of a persecuted Christian profession. Herein lies the beginning of all spiritual declension—a lack of the due exercise of faith, and that in turn, is the result of the heart growing cold toward Christ! If faith be in healthy exercise, we shall say, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), realizing that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17); ah, but that consciousness is only “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (verse 18).

“Consider Him:” there is the remedy against faintness of mind; there is the preservative from such “weariness” of dejection of spirits that we are ready to throw down our weapons and throw up our hands in utter despair. It is the diligent consideration of the person of Christ, the Object of faith, the Food of faith, the Supporter of faith. It is by drawing an analogy between His infinitely sorer sufferings and our present hardships. It is by making application unto ourselves of what is to be found in Him suitable to our own case. Are we called on to suffer a little for Him, then let our eye be turned on Him who went before us in the same path of trial. Make a comparison between what He “endured” and what you are called to struggle with, and surely you will be ashamed to complain! “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Admire and imitate His meekness—weeping over His enemies, and praying for His murderers!

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (verse 4). The persons here immediately addressed—the “ye”—were the Hebrews themselves. Because of their profession of Christianity, because of their loyalty to Christ, they had suffered severely in various ways. Plain reference to something of what they had already been called on to endure is made in 10:32-34, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly whilst ye were made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods.” Thus, the Hebrew saints had been sorely oppressed by their unbelieving brethren among the Jews; it is that which gave such point to the exhortation and warning in the previous verse.

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Here is the second consideration which the apostle pressed upon his afflicted brethren: not only to ponder the far greater opposition which their Savior encountered, but also to bear in mind that their own sufferings were not so severe as they might have been, or as possibly they would yet be. It is an argument made by reasoning from the greater to the less, and from comparing their present state with that which might await them: what could be expected to sustain their hearts and deliver from apostasy when under the supreme test of death by violence, if they fainted beneath lesser afflictions? We, too, should honestly face the same alternative: if unkind words and sneers make us waver now, how would we acquit ourselves if called on to face a martyr’s death!

The present state of the oppressed Hebrews is here expressed negatively: “ye have not yet resisted unto blood.” True, they had already met with various forms of suffering, but not yet had they been called upon to lay down their lives. As Hebrews 10:32-34 clearly intimates, they had well acquitted themselves during the first stages of their trials, but their warfare was not yet ended. They had need to bear in mind that word of Christ, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1); and that exhortation of the Holy Spirit, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood.” The apostle here hinted to the Hebrews what might yet have to be endured by them, namely a bloody and violent death—by stoning, or the sword, or fire. That is the utmost which fiendish persecutors can afflict. Men may kill the body, but when they have done that, they can do no more. God has set bounds to their rage: none will hound or harm His people in the next world! Those who engage in the Christian profession, who serve under the banner of Christ, have no guarantee that they may not be called unto the utmost suffering of blood on account of their allegiance to him; for that is what His adversaries have always desired. Hence, Christ bids us to “sit down and count the cost” (Luke 14:28), of being His disciples. God has decreed that many, in different ages should be martyred for His own praise, the glory of Christ and the honor of the Gospel.

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” “Sin” is here personified, regarded as a combatant which has to be overcome. The various persecutions, hardships, afflictions, difficulties of the way, in consequence of our attachment to Christ, become so many occasions and means which sin seeks to employ in order to hinder and oppose us. The Christian is called to a contest with sin. The apostle continues his allusion to the Grecian Games, changing from the racer to the combatant. The great contest is in the believer’s heart between grace and sin, the flesh and the spirit (Gal. 5:17). Sin seeks to quench faith and kill obedience: therefore sin is to be “striven against” for our very souls are at stake. There is no place for sloth in this deadly contest; no furloughs are granted!

“Striving against sin.” That which the Hebrews were striving against was apostasy, going to the full lengths of sin—abandoning their Christian profession. Persecution was the means which indwelling depravity sought to use, to employ in slaying faith and fidelity to Christ. That terrible wickedness was to be steadfastly resisted, by fighting against weariness in the conflict. O to say with the apostle, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13): but in order to reach that state of soul, there has to be a close walking with Him day by day, and a patient bearing of the minor trials. “If thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5).

AW Pink (1886-1952): Hebrews 12:5-6

Commentary on Hebrews 12:5-6

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch.

Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

Divine Chastisement

(Hebrews 12:5)

The grand truth of Divine Chastisement is inexpressibly blessed, and one which we can neglect only to our great loss. It is of deep importance, for when Scripturally apprehended it preserves from some serious errors by which Satan has succeeded (as “an angel of light”) in deceiving and destroying not a few. For example, it sounds the death-knell to that wide-spread delusion of “sinless perfectionism.” The passage which is to be before us unmistakably exposes the wild fanaticism of those who imagine that, as the result of some “second work of grace,” the carnal nature has been eradicated from their beings, so that, while perhaps not so wise, they are as pure as the angels which never sinned, and lead lives which are blameless in the sight of the thrice holy God. Poor blinded souls: such have not even experienced a first “work of Divine grace” in their souls: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

“My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:5, 6). How plain and emphatic is that! God does find something to “rebuke” in us, and uses the rod upon every one of His children. Chastisement for sin is a family mark, a sign of sonship, a proof of God’s love, a token of His Fatherly kindness and care; it is an inestimable mercy, a choice new-covenant blessing. Woe to the man whom God chastens not, whom He suffers to go recklessly on in the boastful and presumptuous security which so many now mistake for faith. There is a reckoning to come of which he little dreams. Were he a son, he would be chastened for his sin; he would be brought to repentance and godly sorrow, he would with grief of heart confess his backslidings, and then be blest with pardon and peace.

The truth of Divine chastisement corrects another serious error, which has become quite common in certain quarters, namely, that God views His people so completely in Christ that He sees no sin in them. It is true, blessedly true, that of His elect it is stated, “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” (Num. 23:21) and that Christ declares of His spouse “Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee” (Song 4:7). The testimony of Scripture is most express that in regard to the justification or acceptance of the persons of the elect, they are “complete in Him”-Christ (Col. 2:10); “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6)-washed in Christ’s blood, clothed with His righteousness. In that sense, God sees no sin in them; none to punish. But we must not use that precious truth to set aside another, revealed with equal clearness, and thus fall into serious error.

God does see sin in His children and chastises them for it. Even though the non-imputation of sin to the believer (Rom. 4:8) and the chastisement of sin in believers (1 Cor. 11:30-32) were irreconcilable to human reason, we are bound to receive both on the authority of Holy Writ. Let us beware lest we fall under the solemn charge of Malachi 2:9, “Ye have not kept My ways, but have been partial in the law.” What could be plainer than this, “I will make Him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for Him for evermore, and My covenant shall stand fast with Him. His seed also will I make to endure forever and His throne as the days of heaven. If His children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My loving kindness will I not utterly take from Him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail” (Ps. 89:27-33). Five things are clearly revealed there. First Christ Himself is addressed under the name of “David.” Second, His children break God’s statutes. Third, in them there is “iniquity” and “transgression.” Fourth, God will “visit” their transgression “with the rod!” Fifth, yet will He not cast them off.

What could express more clearly the fact that God does see sin in believers, and that He does chastise them for it? For, be it noted, the whole of the above passage speaks of believers. It is the language, not of the Law, but of the Gospel. Blessed promises are there made to believers in Christ: the unchanging loving-kindness of God, His covenant-faithfulness toward them, His spiritual blessing of them. But “stripes” and the “rod” are there promised too! Then let us not dare to separate what God has joined together. How do we know anything concerning the acceptance of the elect in Christ? The answer must be, Only on the testimony of Holy Writ. Very well; from the same unerring Testimony we also know that God chastises His people for their sins. It is at our imminent peril that we reject either of these complementary truths.

The same fact is plainly presented again in Hebrews 12:7-10, “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily, for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” The apostle there draws an analogy from the natural relationship of father and child. Why do earthly parents chastise their children? Is it not for their faults? Can we justify a parent for chastening a child where there was no fault, nothing in him which called for the rod? In that case, it would be positive tyranny, actual cruelty. If the same be not true spiritually, then the comparison must fall to the ground. Hebrews 12 proves conclusively that, if God does not chastise me then I am an unbeliever, and I sign my own condemnation as a bastard.

Yet it is very necessary for us to point out, at this stage, that all the sufferings of believers in this world are not Divine rebukes for personal transgressions. Here too we need to be on our guard against lopsidedness. After we have apprehended the fact that God does take notice of the iniquities of His people and use the rod upon them, it is so easy to jump to the conclusion that when we see an afflicted Christian, God must be visiting His displeasure upon him. That is a sad and serious error. Some of the very choicest of God’s saints have been called on to endure the most painful and protracted sufferings; some of the most faithful and eminent servants of Christ have encountered the most relentless and extreme persecution. Not only is this a fact of observation, but it is plainly revealed in Holy Writ.

As we turn to God’s Word for light on the subject of suffering among the saints, we find it affirmed, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). Those “afflictions” are sent by God upon different ones for various reasons. Sometimes for the prevention of sin: the experience of the beloved apostle was a case in point, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). Sometimes sore trials are sent for the testing and strengthening of our graces: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2, 3). Sometimes God’s servants and people axe called on to endure fierce persecution for a confirmatory testimony to the Truth “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

Yet here again we need to be much on our guard, for the flesh is ever ready to pervert even the holy things of God, and make an evil use of that which is good. When God is chastising a Christian for his sins, it is so easy for him to suppose such is not the case, and falsely comfort himself with the thought that God is only developing his graces, or permitting him to have closer fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. Where we are visited with afflictions personally, it is always the safest policy to assume that God has a controversy with us; humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand, and say with Job, “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (10:2); and when He has convicted me of my fault, to penitently confess and forsake it. But where others are concerned, it is not for us to judge-though sometimes God reveals the cause to His servants (Amos 3:7).

In the passage which is to be before us, the apostle presents a third consideration why heed should be given unto the exhortation at the beginning of Hebrews 12, which calls to patient perseverance in the path of faith and obedience, notwithstanding all the obstacles, difficulties, and dangers which may be encountered therein. He now draws a motive from the nature of those sufferings considered in the light of God’s end in them: all the trials and persecutions which He may call on His people to endure are necessary, not only as testimonies to the truth, to the reality of His grace in them, but also as chastisements which are required by us, wherein God has a blessed design toward us. This argument is enforced by several considerations to the end of verse 13. How we should admire and adore the consummate wisdom of God which has so marvelously ordered all, that the very things which manifest the hatred of men against us, are evidences of His love toward us! How the realization of this should strengthen patience!

O how many of God’s dear children have found, in every age, that the afflictions which have come upon them from a hostile world, were soul-purging medicines from the Lord. By them they have been bestirred, revived, and mortified to things down here; and made partakers of God’s holiness, to their own unspeakable advantage and comfort. Truly wondrous are the ways of our great God. Hereby doth He defeat the counsels and expectations of the wicked, having a design to accomplish by their agency something which they know not of. These very reproaches, imprisonments, stripes, with the loss of goods and danger of their lives, with which the world opposed them for their ruin; God makes use of for their refining, consolation and joy. Truly He “maketh the wrath of man to praise Him” (Ps. 76:10). O that our hearts and minds may be duly impressed with the wisdom, power and grace of Him who bringeth a clean thing out of an unclean.

“In all these things is the wisdom and goodness of God, in contriving and effecting these things, to the glory of His grace, and the salvation of His Church, to be admired” (John Owen). But herein we may see, once more, the imperative need for faith-a God-given, God-sustained, spiritual, supernatural FAITH. Carnal reason can see no more in our persecutions than the malice and rage of evil men. Our senses perceive nothing beyond material losses and painful physical discomforts. But faith discovers the Father’s hand directing all things: faith is assured that all proceeds from His boundless love: faith realizes that He has in view the good of our souls. The more this is apprehended by the exercise of faith, not only the better for our peace of mind, but the readier shall we be to diligently apply ourselves in seeking to learn God’s lessons for us in every chastisement He lays upon us.

The opening “And” of verse 5 shows the apostle is continuing to present motives to stir unto a perseverance in the faith, notwithstanding sufferings for the same. The first motive was taken from the example of the O.T. worthies (verse 1). The second, from the illustrious pattern of Jesus (verses 2-4). This is the third: the Author of these sufferings-our Father-and His loving design in them. There is also a more immediate connection with 5:4 pointed by the “And:” it presents a tacit rebuke for being ready to faint under the lesser trials, wherewith they were exercised. Here He gives a reason how and why it was they were thus making that reason the means of introducing a new argument. The reason why they were ready to faint was their inattention to the direction and encouragement which God has supplied for them-our failure to appropriate God’s gracious provisions for us is the rise of all our spiritual miscarriages.

The Hebrew Christians to whom this epistle was first addressed were passing through a great fight of afflictions, and miserably were they acquitting themselves. They were the little remnant out of the Jewish nation who had believed on their Messiah during the days of His public ministry, plus those Jews who had been converted under the preaching of the apostles. It is highly probable that they had expected the Messianic kingdom would at once be set up on earth, and that they would be allotted the chief places of honor in it. But the millennium had not begun, and their own lot became increasingly bitter. They were not only hated by the Gentiles, but ostracized by their unbelieving brethren, and it became a hard matter for them to make even a bare living. Providence held a frowning face. Many who had made a profession of Christianity had gone back to Judaism and were prospering temporally. As the afflictions of the believing Jews increased they too were sorely tempted to turn their back upon the new Faith. Had they been wrong in embracing Christianity? Was high heaven displeased because they had identified themselves with Jesus of Nazareth? Did not their sufferings go to show that God no longer regarded them with favor?

Now it is most blessed and instructive to see how the apostle met the unbelieving reasoning of their hearts. He appealed to their own scriptures, reminding them of an exhortation found in Proverbs 3:11, 12: “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastenings of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). As we pointed out so often in our exposition of the earlier chapters of this Epistle, at every critical point in his argument the apostle’s appeal was to the written Word of God-an example which is binding on every servant of Christ to follow. That Word is the final court of appeal for every controversial matter, and the more its authority is respected, the more is its Author honored. Not only so, but the more God’s children are brought to turn to its instruction, the more will they be built up and established in the true faith. Moreover, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4): it is to them alone we must turn for solid comfort. Great will be our loss if we fail to do so.

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you.” Note well the words we have placed in italics. The exhortation to which the apostle referred was uttered over a thousand years previously, under the Mosaic dispensation; nevertheless the apostle insists that it was addressed equally unto the New T. saints! How this exposes the cardinal error of modern “dispensationalists,” who seek to rob Christians of the greater part of God’s precious Word. Under the pretense of “rightly dividing” the Word, they would filch from them all that God gave to His people prior to the beginning of the present era. Such a devilish device is to be steadfastly resisted by us. All that is found in the book of Proverbs is as much God the Father’s instruction to us as are the contents of the Pauline epistles! Throughout that book God addresses us individually as “My son:” see Hebrews 1:8, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, etc. Surely that is quite sufficient for every spiritual mind-no labored argument is needed.

The appositeness of Proverbs 3:11, 12 to the case of the afflicted Hebrews gave great force to the apostle’s citing of it here. That passage would enable them to perceive that their case was by no means unprecedented or peculiar, that it was in fact no otherwise with them than it had been with others of God’s children in former ages and that long before the Lord had graciously laid in provision for their encouragement: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction: For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a Father the son in whom He delighteth” (Prov. 3:11, 12). It has ever been God’s way to correct those in whom He delights, to chastise His children; but so far from that salutary discipline causing us to faint, it should strengthen and comfort our hearts, being assured that such chastening proceeds from His love, and that the exhortation to perseverance in the path of duty is issued by Him. It is the height of pride and ingratitude not to comply with His tender entreaties.

But the apostle had to say to the suffering Hebrews, “Ye have forgotten the exhortation.” To forget God’s gracious instruction is at least an infirmity, and with it they are here taxed. To forget the encouragements which the Father has given us is a serious fault: it is expressly forbidden: “Beware lest thou forget the Lord” (Deut. 6:12). It was taxed upon the Jews of old, “They soon forgat His works… They forgat God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt” (Ps. 106:13, 21). Forgetfulness is a part of that corruption which has seized man by his fall: all the faculties of his soul have been seriously injured-the memory, which was placed in man to be a treasury, in which to lay up the directions and consolations of God’s Word, has not escaped the universal wreckage. But that by no means excuses us: it is a fault, to be striven and prayed against. As ministers see occasion, they are to stir up God’s people to use means for the strengthening of the memory-especially by the formation of the habit of holy meditation in Divine things.

Thus it was with the Hebrews, in some measure at least: they had “forgotten” that which should have stood in good stead in the hour of their need. Under their trials and persecution, they ought, in an especial manner, to have called to mind that Divine exhortation of Proverbs 3:11, 12 for their encouragement: had they believingly appropriated it, they had been kept from fainting. Alas, how often we are like them! “The want of a diligent consideration of the provision that God hath made in the Scripture for our encouragement to duty and comfort under difficulties, is a sinful forgetfulness, and is of dangerous consequence to our souls” (John Owen).

“Which speaketh unto you as unto children.” It is very striking indeed to observe the tense of the verb here: the apostle was quoting a sentence of Scripture which had been written a thousand years previously, yet he does not say “which hath spoken,” but “which speaketh unto you!” The same may be seen again in that sevenfold exhortation of Revelation 2 and 3, “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith (not “said”) unto the churches.” The Holy Scriptures are a living Word, in which God speaks to men in every generation. Holy Writ is not a dumb or dead letter: it has a voice in it, ever speaking of God Himself. “The Holy Spirit is always present in the Word, and speaks in it equally and alike to the church in all ages. He doth in it speak as immediately to us, as if we were the first and only persons to whom He spake. And this should teach us, with what reverence we ought to attend to the Scriptures, namely, as to the way and means whereby God Himself speaks directly to us” (John Owen.)

“Which speaketh unto you as unto children.” The apostle emphasizes the fact that God addresses an exhortation in Proverbs 3:11 to “My son,” which shows plainly that His relation to the O.T. saints was that of a Father to His children. This at once refutes a glaring error made by some who pose as being ultra-orthodox, more deeply taught in the Word than others. They have insisted that the Fatherhood of God was never revealed until the Son became incarnate; but every verse in the Proverbs where God says “My son” reveals their mistake. That the O.T. saints were instructed in this blessed relationship is clear from other passages: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). This relation unto God is by virtue of their (and our) union with Christ: He is “the Son,” and being one with Him, members of His body, they were “sons” too.

This precious relationship is the ground of the soul’s confidence in God. “If God speaks to them as to children, they have good ground to fly to God as to a Father. and in all time of need to ask and seek of Him all needful blessings (Matthew 7:11), yea, and in faith to depend on Him for the same (Matthew 6:31, 32). What useful things shall they want? What hurtful thing need such to fear? If God deal with us as with children, He will provide for them every good thing, He will protect them from every hurtful thing, He will hear their prayers, He will accept their services, He will bear with their infirmities, He will support them under all their burdens, and assist them against all their assaults; though through their own weakness, or the violence of some temptation, they should be drawn from Him, yet will He be ready to meet them in the mid-way, turning to Him-instance the mind of the father of the prodigal towards him” (W. Gouge).

Divine Chastisement

(Hebrews 12:6)

The problem of suffering is a very real one in this world, and to not a few of our readers a personal and acute one. While some of us are freely supplied with comforts, others are constantly exercised over procuring the bare necessities of life. While some of us have long been favored with good health, others know not what it is to go through a day without sickness and pain. While some homes have not been visited by death for many years, others are called upon again and again to pass through the deep waters of family bereavement. Yes, dear friend; the problem of suffering, the encountering of severe trials, is a very personal thing for not a few of the members of the household of faith. Nor is it the external afflictions which occasion the most anguish: it is the questionings they raise, the doubts they stimulate, the dark clouds of unbelief which they so often bring over the heart.

Very often it is in seasons of trial and trouble that Satan is most successful in getting in his evil work. When he perceives the uselessness of attempting to bring believers under the bondage in which he keeps unbelievers, he bides his time for the shooting at them of other arrows which he has in his quiver. Though he is unable to drag them down to the commission of the grosser outward forms of sin, he waits his opportunity for tempting them to be guilty of inward sins. Though he cannot infect them with the poison of evolutionism and higher criticism, he despairs not of seducing them with questions of God’s goodness. It is when adversity comes the Christian’s way, when sore trials multiply, when the soul is oppressed and the mind distressed, that the Devil seeks to instill and strengthen doubtings of God’s love, and to call into question the faithfulness of His promises.

Moreover, there come seasons in the lives of many saints when to sight and sense it seems as though God Himself had ceased to care for His needy and afflicted child. Earnest prayer is made for the mitigation of the sufferings, but relief is not granted. Grace is sought to meekly bear the burden which has been laid upon the suffering one; yet, so far from any sensible answer being received, self-will, impatience, unbelief, are more active than ever. Instead of the peace of God ruling the heart, unrest and enmity occupy its throne. Instead of quietness within, there is turmoil and resentment. Instead of “giving thanks always for all things unto God” (Eph. 5:20), the soul is filled with unkind thoughts and feelings against Him. This is cause for anguish unto the renewed heart; yet, at times, struggle against the evil as the Christian may, he is overcome by it.

Then it is that the afflicted one cries out, “Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord, why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). To the distressed saint, the Lord seems to stand still, as if He coldly looked on from a distance, and did not sympathize with the afflicted one. Nay, worse, the Lord appears to be afar off, and no longer “a very present help in trouble,” but rather an inaccessible mountain, which it is impossible to reach. The felt presence of the Lord is the stay, the strength, the consolation of the believer; the lifting up of the light of His countenance upon us, is what sustains and cheers us in this dark world. But when that is withheld, when we no longer have the joy of His presence with us, drab indeed is the prospect, sad the heart. It is the hiding of our Father’s face which cuts to the quick. When trouble and desertion come together, it is unbearable.

Then it is that the word comes to us, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). Ah, it is easy for us to perceive the meetness of such an admonition as this while things are going smoothly and pleasantly for us. While our lot is congenial, or at least bearable, we have little difficulty in discerning what a sin it is for any Christian to either “despise” God’s chastenings or to “faint” beneath them. But when tribulation comes upon us, when distress and anguish fill our hearts, it is quite another matter. Not only do we become guilty of one of the very evils here dehorted from, but we are very apt to excuse and extenuate our peevishness or faintness. There is a tendency in all of us to pity ourselves, to take sides with ourselves against God, and even to justify the uprisings of our hearts against Him.

Have we never, in self-vindication, said, “Well, after all we are human; it is natural that we should chafe against the rod or give way to despondency when we are afflicted. It is all very well to tell us that we should not, but how can we help ourselves? we cannot change our natures; we are frail men and women, and not angels.” And what has been the issue from the fruit of this self-pity and self-vindication? Review the past, dear friend, and recall how you felt and acted inwardly when God was tearing up your cozy nest, overturning your cherished plans, dashing to pieces your fondest hopes, afflicting you painfully in your affairs, your body, or your family circle. Did it not issue in calling into question the wisdom of God’s ways, the justice of His dealings with you, His kindness towards you? Did it not result in your having still stronger doubts of His very goodness?

In Hebrews 12:5 the Christian is cautioned against either despising the Lord’s chastenings or fainting beneath them. Yet, notwithstanding this plain warning, there remains a tendency in all of us not only to disregard the same, but to act contrary thereto. The apostle anticipates this evil, and points out the remedy. The mind of the Christian must be fortified against it. But how? By calling to remembrance the source from which all his testings, trials, tribulations and troubles proceed, namely, the blessed, wondrous, unchanging love of God. “My son, despise not thou the chastenings of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him. FOR whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” Here a reason is advanced why we should not despise God’s chastening nor faint beneath it—all proceeds from His love. Yes, even the bitter disappointments, the sore trials, the things which occasion an aching heart, are not only appointed by unerring wisdom, but are sent by infinite Love! It is the apprehension and appropriation of this glorious fact, and that alone, which will preserve us from both the evils forbidden in 5:5.

The way to victory over suffering is to keep sorrow from filling the soul: “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). So long as the waves wash only the deck of the ship, there is no danger of its foundering; but when the tempest breaks through the hatches and submerges the hold, then disaster is nigh. No matter what floods of tribulation break over us, it is our duty and our privilege to have peace within: “keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23): suffer no doubtings of God’s wisdom, faithfulness, goodness, to take root there. But how am I to prevent their so doing? “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), is the inspired answer, the sure remedy, the way to victory. There, in one word, we have made known to us the secret of how to overcome all questionings of God’s providential ways, all murmurings against His dealings with us.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God.” It is as though a parent said to his child, “Keep yourself in the sunshine:” the sun shines whether he enjoys it or not, but he is responsible not to walk in the shade and thus lose its genial glow. So God’s love for His people abides unchanging, but how few of them keep themselves in the warmth of it. The saint is to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17); “rooted” like a tree in rich and fertile soil; “grounded” like a house built upon a rock. Observe that both of these figures speak of hidden processes: the root-life of a tree is concealed from human eyes, and the foundations of a house are laid deep in the ground. Thus it should be with each child of God: the heart is to be fixed, nourished by the love of God.

It is one thing to believe intellectually that “God is love” and that He loves His people, but it is quite another to enjoy and live in that love in the soul. To be “rooted and grounded in love” means to have a settled assurance of God’s love for us, such an assurance as nothing can shake. This is the deep need of every Christian, and no pains are to be spared in the obtaining thereof. Those passages in Scripture which speak of the wondrous love of God, should be read frequently and meditated upon daily. There should be a diligent striving to apprehend God’s love more fully and richly. Dwell upon the many unmistakable proofs which God has made of His love to you: the gift of His Word, the gift of His Son, the gift of His Spirit. What greater, what clearer proofs do we require! Steadfastly resist every temptation to question His love: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Let that be the realm in which you live, the atmosphere you breathe, the warmth in which you thrive.

This life is but a schooling. In saying this we are uttering a platitude, yet it is a truth of which all Christians need to be constantly reminded. This is the period of our childhood and minority. Now in childhood everything has, or should have, the character of education and discipline. Dear parents and teachers are constantly directing, warning, rebuking; the whole of the child-life is under rule, restraint and guidance. But the only object is the child him-self—his good, his character, his future; and the only motive is love. Now as childhood is to the rest of our life, so is the whole of our earthly sojourn to our future and heavenly life. Therefore let us seek to cultivate the spirit of childhood. Let us regard it as natural that we should be daily rebuked and corrected. Let us behave with the docility and meekness of children, with their trustful and sweet assurance that love is behind all our chastenings, that we are in the tender hands of our Father.

But if this attitude is to be maintained, faith must be kept in steady exercise: only thus shall we judge aright of afflictions. Sense is ever ready to slander and belie the Divine perfections. Sense beclouds the understanding and causes us to wrongly interpret God’s dispensations with us. Why so? Because sense estimates things from their outside and by their present feeling. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous” (Heb. 12:11), and therefore if when under the rod we judge of God’s love and care for us by our sense of His present dealings, we are likely to conclude that He has but little regard for us. Herein lies the urgent need for the putting forth of faith, for “faith is the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the only remedy for this double evil. Faith interprets things not according to the outside or visible, but according to the promise. Faith looks upon providences not as a present disconnected piece, but in its entirety to the end of things.

Sense perceives in our trials naught but expressions of God’s disregard or anger, but faith can discern Divine wisdom and love in the sorest troubles. Faith is able to unfold the fiddles and solve the mysteries of providence. Faith can extract honey and sweetness out of gall and wormwood. Faith discerns that God’s heart is filled with love toward us, even when His hand is heavy and smarts upon us. The bucket goes down into the well the deeper, that it may come up the fuller. Faith perceives God’s design in the chastening is our good. It is through faith “that He would show thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is” (Job 11:6). By the “secrets of wisdom” is meant the hidden ways of God’s providence. Divine providence has two faces: the one of rigor, the other of clemency; sense looks upon the former only, faith enjoys the latter.

Faith not only looks beneath the surface of things and sees the sweet orange beneath the bitter rind, but it looks beyond the present and anticipates the blessed sequel. Of the Psalmist it is recorded, “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Thine eyes” (Ps. 31:22). The fumes of passion dim our vision when we look only at what is present. Asaph declared, “My feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped; for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2, 3); but when he went into the sanctuary of God he said, “Then understood I their end” (verse 17), and that quieted him. Faith is occupied not with the scaffolding, but with the completed building; not with the medicine, but with the healthful effects it produces; not with the painful rod, but with the peaceable fruit of righteousness in which it issues.

Suffering, then, is a test of the heart; chastisement is a challenge to faith—our faith in His wisdom, His faithfulness, His love. As we have sought to show above the great need of the Christian is to keep himself in the love of God, for the soul to have an unshaken assurance of His tender care for us: “casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). But the knowledge of that “care” can only be experimentally maintained by the exercise of faith—especially is this the case in times of trouble. A preacher once asked a despondent friend, “Why is that cow looking over the wall?” And the answer was, “Because she cannot look through it.” The illustration may be crude, yet it gives point to an important truth. Discouraged reader, look over the things which so much distress you, and behold the Father’s smiling face; look above the frowning clouds of His providence, and see the sunshine of His never changing love.

“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (verse 6). There is something very striking and unusual about this verse, for it is found, in slightly varied form, in no less than five different books of the Bible:—”Happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17); “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law” (Ps. 94:12); “Whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:12); “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19). Probably there is a twofold reason for this reiteration. First, it hints at the importance and blessedness of this truth. God repeats it so frequently lest we should forget, and thus lose the comfort and cheer of realizing that Divine chastisement proceeds from love. This must be a precious word if God thought it well to say it five times over! Second, such repetition also implies our slowness to believe it; by nature our evil hearts are inclined in the opposite direction. Though our text affirms so emphatically that the Christian’s chastisements proceed from God’s love, we are ever ready to attribute them to His harshness. It is really very humbling that the Holy Spirit should deem it necessary to repeat this statement so often.

“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Four things are to be noted. First, the best of God’s children need chastisement—”every son.” There is no Christian but what has faults and follies which require correcting: “in many things we all offend” (James 3:2). Second, God will correct all whom He adopts into His family. However He may now let the reprobate alone in their sins, He will not ignore the failings of His people—to be suffered to go on unrebuked in wickedness is a sure sign of alienation from God. Third, in this God acts as a Father: no wise and good parent will wink at the faults of his own children: his very relation and affection to them oblige him to take notice of the same. Fourth, God’s disciplinary dealings with His sons proceed from and make manifest His love to them: it is this fact we would now particularly concentrate upon.

1. The Christian’s chastisements flow from God’s love. Not from His anger or hardness, nor from arbitrary dealings, but from God’s heart do our afflictions proceed. It is love which regulates all the ways of God in dealing with His own. It was love which elected them. The heart is not warmed when our election is traced back merely to God’s sovereign will, but our affections are stirred when we read “in love having predestinated us” (Eph. 1:4, 5). It was love which redeemed us. We do not reach the center of the atonement when we see nothing more in the Cross than a vindication of the law and a satisfaction of justice: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). It is love which regenerates or effectually calls us: “with loving kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). The new birth is not only a marvel of Divine wisdom and a miracle of Divine power, but it is also and superlatively a product of God’s affection.

In like manner it is love which ordained our trials and orders our chastisements. O Christian, never doubt the love of God. A quaint old Quaker, who was a farmer, had a weather-vane on the roof of his barn, from which stood out in clear-cut letters “God is love.” One day a preacher was being driven to the Quaker’s home; his host called attention to the vane and its text. The preacher turned and said, “I don’t like that at all: it misrepresents the Divine character—God’s love is not variable like the weather.” Said the Quaker, “Friend you have misinterpreted its significance; that text on the weather-vane is to remind me that, no matter which way the wind is blowing, no matter from which direction the storm may come, still, “God is love.”

2. The Christian’s chastisements express God’s love. Oftentimes we do not think so. As God’s children we think and act very much as we did when children naturally. When we were little and our parents insisted that we should perform a certain duty we failed to appreciate the love which had respect unto our future well-being. Or, when our parents denied us something on which we had set our hearts, we felt we were very hardly dealt with. Yet was it love which said “No” to us. So it is spiritually. The love of God not only gives, but also withholds. No doubt this is the explanation for some of our unanswered prayers: God loves us too much to give what would not really be for our profit. The duties insisted upon, the rebukes given, the things withheld, are all expressions of His faithful love.

Chastisements manifest God’s care of us. He does not regard us with unconcern and neglect, as men usually do their illegitimate children, but He has a true parent’s solicitation for us: “Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). “And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:3). There are several important sermons wrapped up in that verse, but we have not the space here to even outline them. God brings into the wilderness that we may be drawn nearer Himself. He dries up cisterns that we may seek and enjoy the Fountain. He destroys our nest down here that our affection may be set upon things above.

3. The Christian’s chastisements magnify God’s love. Our very trials make manifest the fullness and reveal the perfections of God’s love. What a word is that in Lamentations 3:33; “He doth not afflict willingly”! If God consulted only His own pleasure, He would not afflict us at all: it is for our profit that He “scourges.” Ever remember that the great High Priest Himself is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”; yet, notwithstanding, He employs the rod! God is love, and nothing is so sensitive as love. Concerning the trials and tribulations of Israel of old, it is written, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9); yet out of love He chastens. How this manifests and magnifies the unselfishness of God’s love!

Here, then is the Christian supplied with an effectual shield to turn aside the fiery darts of the wicked one. As we said at the beginning, Satan ever seeks to take advantage of our trials: like the fiend that he is, he makes his fiercest assaults when we are most cast down. Thus it was that he attacked Job—”Curse God and die.” And thus some of us have found it. Did he not, in the hour of suffering and sorrow, seek to remind you that when you had become increasingly diligent in seeking to please and glorify God, the darkest clouds of adversity followed; and say, How unjust God is; what a miserable reward for your devotion and zeal! Here is your recourse, fellow-Christian: say to the Devil, “It is written, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’ “

Again; if Satan cannot succeed in traducing the character of God and cause us to doubt His goodness and question His love, then he will assail our assurance. The Devil is most persevering: if a frontal attack falls, then he will make one from the rear. He will assault your assurance of sonship: he will whisper “You are no child of His: look at your condition, consider your circumstances, contrast those of other Christians. You cannot be an object of God’s favor; you are deceiving yourself; your profession is an empty one. If you were God’s child, He would treat you very differently. Such privations, such losses, such pains, show that you cannot be one of His.” But say to him, “It is written, ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’”

Let our final thought be upon the last word of our text: “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” The one whom God scourges is not rejected, but “received”—received up into glory, welcomed in His House above. First the cross, then the crown, is God’s unchanging order. This was vividly illustrated in the history of the children of Israel: God “chose them in the furnace of affliction,” and many and bitter were their trials ere they reached the promised land. So it is with us. First the wilderness, then Canaan; first the scourging, and then the “receiving.” May we keep ourselves more and more in the love of God.